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Arfanarf

Q From Jeffrey: I’ve only heard this word once — in a trivia game — and I’ve not checked it out in the OED, since I don’t own one. But it’s a great sounding word and I thought maybe it’s worth checking. The word is arfarfanarf and means, I believe, very drunk.

A It’s an old bit of Cockney slang, dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and quite defunct. Your transcription isn’t quite correct: it’s arfanarf, a run-together slack-jawed way of saying half-and-half. This was a mixture of ale and porter in equal proportions, a popular concoction of the period (elsewhere, and at different times, it was created from equal proportions of mild and bitter, or old and mild, various types of beers; some of them, such as porter, are now almost as rare as the expression itself). So someone who was arfanarf had drunk too many pints of some version of this mixture.

I am reliably informed that half-and-half as a phrase referring to drink is alive and well. In Scotland, for example, it can refer to a mixture of beers, but also to a half pint of beer and a single measure of whisky (anything less than a double being considered only a partial ration, it would appear).

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 30 Sep. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 30 September 2000.