Booze is a term we use to this day to describe alcoholic drink, especially, but not restricted to beer. Passing English of the Victorian Era, compiled by James Ware and published in 1909, suggested that it was a corruption of the English verb, to bouse, which had appeared in printed form since around 1567. However, in 1885, Mr O’Donovan, described as an Eastern traveller, claimed that it was Persian for beer, although the correspondent noted that the famed Orientalist was noted for his sense of humour.
Judges were as out of touch with ordinary life in Victorian times as they are claimed to be now. Ware records this exchange between some learned gentlemen during a hearing of the Southampton election petition, although sadly he does not date it. “A witness describing a procession of costermongers said, “I heard some men shout that they wanted some more booze”. Mr Justice Wright: What? Willis: Booze, my lord, drink. Mr Justice Wright: Ah!”
A booze-fencer or booze-pusher was a licensed victualler while a booze-shunter was a beer drinker. The latter phrase, Ware claims, came from the railways. Shunting was a term used to describe moving something from place to place and the beer drinker moved “the beer, or booze, from the pot into his visceral arrangements”. The term was started, he goes on, by porters and guards of the South-Western Railway who used “the larger public houses in the neighbourhood of the terminus in Waterloo Road”.
A bottle o’ Spruce signified zero or nothing, as in “I care not a bottle o’ Spruce”. Spruce beer was a cheap beer which was made from the buds and needles of spruce trees. It was an unappealing dark brown-greenish concoction which had a piney turpene flavour, although some described it as having the smell of Vicks Vapo-rub and pine needles. It sold for tuppence a bottle, perhaps giving rise to the expression “I don’t give tuppence for it”. Clearly it was the 18th and 19th century equivalent of Marmite!