The Iceman Speaketh

The Iceman Speaketh

Posted by: Neena Arndt at 04/20/2012 03:07 PM

Part One: Intoxicating Terms from 1912
By Neena Arndt, The Iceman Cometh Dramaturg  

The Iceman is here, and he’s brought the language of 1912 with him.

After six weeks of rehearsal and nine months of anticipation, The Iceman Cometh begins preview performances in the Albert Theatre tomorrow night. Audiences, and especially O’Neillphiles, are in for a special treat, as the four-and-a-half-hour classic features a virtuoso ensemble that seamlessly become the residents of Harry Hope’s saloon, the Greenwich Village flophouse in which The Iceman Cometh is set.

The Iceman Cometh was written in 1939, but it takes place in that (quasi-fictional) flophouse in 1912, and as an authentic period piece the play’s dialogue pops with the colorful slang of the early twentieth century. Some of these phrases and terms have retired from the English language entirely, so to help you decipher them we’ve complied a glossary of Icemanisms that we’ll post in a three-part series on the language of the Iceman (dubbed The Iceman Speaketh). This is part one (bar terms) in the series; check back often, because parts two (insults) and three (extras) are coming soon.

Bar Terms

A drink of whiskey. Perhaps derived from “ball of fire,” referring to the fiery taste of alcohol.

An alcoholic beverage of an inferior quality. This phrase appears in print from 1865 onward.

To have bleary or wild-looking eyes, especially as a result of drunkenness. More generally used to describe someone who is drunk, enraged or both.

Drunk or intoxicated. The etymology is unclear, but the term "pie" was slang among printers to refer a page that turned out a blurry mess, and so many guess that "pie-eyed" refers to the blurred vision of a drunk.

A restaurant or tavern, usually below street level, which serves beer. From the German “rath” (town hall) and “keller” (cellar). First appears in English around 1865.

Slang for inferior whiskey.

Slang for inferior alcohol.

A sweet cocktail made with sherry, cream, powdered sugar and an egg, with nutmeg sprinkled on top. It is typically considered a ladies’ drink.

Slang for a strong drink, recorded from 1756.

Slang for a drunkard.

A drunkard, referring to the notion of being “soused” or pickled in liquor.

A vagabond who is habitually drunk.

Slang for intoxicated or drunk. 


  • Posted by: Pamela Becker at 06/08/2012 10:06 AM

    I attended the Tuesday, June 5th performance, and have now learned to read the length of the show. I enjoyed Nathan Lane and he was the reason I asked for these tickets for Mothers Day. This show was way too long and I believe with some good editing the show could have been shorted to 3hours and the story would have still been told with less repeating. Show was way too long with too much yelling...but was truly happy there was no "F" word in the show!

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