Friday 1 December 2017


I've just discovered that there is a Finnish word for "getting drunk at home in your underwear with no intention of doing anything else". The word is kalsarikännit. This is important news.

At first, I didn't believe it. There are a lot of amazing-foreign-words-with-sentence-long-definitions that either don't exist, or only exist in a very theoretical sense. Yes, a German might be able to put all those words together in the same way that I might be able to say snow-gobbling-day, it doesn't mean that there's such a word in common English usage.

But kalsarikännit is real. The etymology is quite simple: kalsarit means underpants, and känni means to be drunk. So it's underpants-getting-drunk. I don't quite know where the with no intention of doing anything else comes from: it may be poetic license, but I suspect that if you are drunk and in your underpants it would be hard to attempt any task of merit and importance, especially outdoors, especially in Finland.

Tolkien taught himself Finnish as a child in order to read the epic poem Kalevala. I, on the other hand, didn't. So I'm a little unclear on the grammar, but so far as I can tell kalsarikännit is the verb and kalsarikänni is the noun, though I may have that wrong, the sources vary. It's pronounced CARL-sarri-KAN-nit. [See video below, and top comment for greater detail]

Naked drinking has been quite a thing, historically speaking. In the London Gin Craze or the early 18th Century, poor people took to selling their clothes to buy spirits, resulting in mass public nudity. In Ancient Egypt at the Festival of Drunkenness all clothes were removed at around midnight when the sex began, and in early colonial Australia people got drunk and gambled:

To such excess was this pursuit carried among the convicts, that some had been known, after losing provisions, money, and all their spare clothing, to have staked and lost the very clothes on their wretched backs, standing in the midst of their associates as naked, and as indifferent about it, as the unconscious natives of the country.

There are also accounts of naked drinking in Russia and Ancient China, and of course there was Noah in his tent. That however was unintentional self-exposure. It's something of a theme in the Bible. Here is Isaiah describing (in a roundabout way) Egyptian foreign policy. Egypt is like someone:

...who gives drink to his neighbours, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!

All of these fascinating facts are of course mentioned and enlarged upon in A Short History of Drunkenness, which is a book by me. It can be bought from these lovely people, or in a real bookshop.

Book Depository

In other news, I'll be doing a talk at Hungerford Books on the 6th, a signing at Waterstones Piccadilly on the 7th, and a show about Dickens' Christmas Carol in Clapham on the 11th.

Incidentally, a tip of the hat should go to the Spectator's review of Icebreaker: A Voyage Far North, where I discovered this.


  1. Finnish is my favorite! Here is a bit of clarification.

    Känni is a noun, it means drunkenness. To be drunk = olla kännissä. Olla = to be, kännissä = in drunkenness.

    T-ending indicates plural. In case of word känni it doesn't make much difference. Plural is just most commonly used.

    Kalsarit is a plural just the same way pants/trousers are. Used as the first part of a compound word it’s singular.

    The stressed syllable is always the first: kAlsarikÄnnit.

    In russian there's no any similar word/expression. Russians call it simply a home drinking. Instead of that they have an informal name майка-алкоголичка “alcoholic shirt” for a sleeveless low neck T-shirt home drunkards most often have on.

    1. That's fascinating, thank you. I've edited the post with a pointer to your comment. And I shall now investigate the майка-алкоголичка.

  2. Whereas in Wales we just called this Tuesday