Does the word booze generally refer to ALL alcoholic beverages, or mostly 'hard' liquor? Do the differences depend on geography?

Some badly needed context:

I am a native speaker living and working in Latin America for the last 35 years.

For the sake of argument...let's say that recently we hosted a reception/dinner party at our home for colleagues from around the world.

Participants asked if they should bring anything: I half-jokingly texted, "Yeah...bring some booze."

Everyone brought beer, or some imported Chilean plonk, but an American brought a bottle of Johnny Walker.

I said to her, "You did not need to go to the expense; some wine or beer would have been great."

And she said, "You said "booze".

When I left the US 35 years ago, the term mostly applied to cheap liquor intended for the consumption by homeless alcoholics (read "street bums").

However, it now seems that there has been some kind of semantic shift over the last 4 decades...

Defining 'booze'

Cambridge online says:


...and Lexico says:

alcoholic drink.

On the other hand, Farlex Free Dictionary has it as:

1. a. Hard liquor. b. An alcoholic beverage.

...and a learner's website says:

  1. an alcoholic beverage that is distilled rather than fermented

Urban Dictionary (sorry)

An alcoholic beverage, specifically any type of beer. It doesn't matter which.

Merriam Webster says

especially : hard liquor


any alcoholic beverage; whiskey.

There is a pretty wide divergence in the primary meanings of the word, and it is quite confusing to someone depending on a single dictionary definition.

Does the usage of the word refer mainly to cheap alcohol, and does it depend on the origin of the English speaker?

Has the meaning changed over time? Or is it universally understood to mean ANY type of alcohol, including fine wine or even sacramental wine. (sorry if I offend for the reductio ad absurdum)

  • 1
    I typically (in the US) hear "booze" to mean any alcohol that is (based on context) being used to get people drunk. Often this is in jest, like in reference to a work party: "Will there be booze?" (i.e., "are people going to get drunk?") So I think it technically can refer to any alcohol but context is important. Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 17:13
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    In the UK, a boozer can be synonymous with a tap-room - primarily a place to drink beer. Thanks largely to continental European influence, we now also have wine bars, but we don't really have or need any terms for places that specialise in providing spirits, since we did away with Dickensian gin palaces. Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 18:26
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    "On the other hand, Farlex Free Dictionary has it as:" I have not used the Farlex dictionary often, but the more examples I see from it, the less I think it is reliable. It tends to give definitions without context, and in English context is essential.
    – user81561
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 22:19
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    Note that CED explains that 'alcohol' is used for 'alcoholic drink' in the 'AmE' section lower down. It should, admittedly, disambiguate for the 'BrE' definition. // I'd say the majority use of the term has changed in the UK over the last 50 years; once it was seen as a crude term for 'dirty beer and hard liquor', but then it became trendy, was adopted by the upper classes, is now broader and generally costs a lot more. Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 21:01
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    @Rattler I'm sorry you are frustated with the quality of the answers you received, but being frustrated does not excuse rude behavior. If you honestly can't understand why a comment like "You guys are lazy" is rude, then maybe you shouldn't be contributing here.
    – nohat
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 21:47

3 Answers 3


As the definitions quoted indicate, the term can be used for alcoholic beverages of any kind. The use of the term, which is quite informal, however, normally implies that the beverages will be consumed for the specific purpose of producing inebriation, without much regard for their more subtle qualities. As hard liquor is more often used for that purpose, than beer and wine, one hears the term applied to it more often, even though it can be applied to any alcoholic beverage, when it is about to be used in that manner.

  • 3
    I agree with this assessment (outside of what I see in dictionaries). But OED says "Alcoholic drink, chiefly beer; U.S. esp. spirits.", so maybe in the US it is mostly hard liquor but in the UK it is the opposite, mostly just beer.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 17:14
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    In the UK that I live in, 'booze' means 'any alcoholic beverage', especially in a context of intended drunkenness. Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 17:31
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    @MichaelHarvey ...hmmnn...my great aunt from Liverpool (b. 1917) would have been extremely disappointed if a guest brought a a bottle of wine when "some booze" had been requested. As the wife of a 30 year veteran at various postings around the world, she had probably acquired a cast-iron liver, and so was more predispositioned to stronger drink later in her life....
    – Rattler
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 19:31
  • In the UK, a 'boozer' could be a pub, or applied to a person, someone who drinks too much. If, every day, I went to a shop at 7am when it opened, and bought a six-pack of strong beer, I would expect the staff would think I was a bit of a boozer. Off the booze means on the wagon. Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 22:08
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    @Rattler It's probably the context that causes people to understand that expectation, not just the choice of word.
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 6:07

As per Andy's comment to your question the references you cite all include the meaning of booze to mean alcohol, an alcoholic drink or an alcoholic beverage.

By definition then as wine is alcohol and beer is alcohol, the meaning of booze can include both wine and beer.

So in conclusion this is really just a simple logical case as you have your definitions.

A. wine is a type of alcohol. B. beer is a type of alcohol. C. booze is alcohol.

Therefore all wine and beer is booze.

So yes booze includes both wine and beer.


As per Mitch's comment below, the first definition cited in Farlex presents a much narrower definition, being:

a. Hard liquor.

Meaning that when the word booze is used it might mean just hard liquor, this definition would not include wine or beer, as these do not fall inside the category of hard liquors.

However I would add from personal experience and usage in the UK, the word booze always means any type of alcohol, so would very definitely include both beer and wine.

  • 3
    Words can have multiple meanings. Farlex gives one meaning of booze as 'all alcoholic drink'. Another meaning is 'just hard liquor (distilled spirits; high alcohol content much more than beer or wine)'. So Farlex is stating that sometimes when people use 'booze' they mean any kind of liquor; other times they mean just the hard stuff. That's all to say that in natural language the logical rule that a word means only one thing just doesn't always hold. I'm not sure I agree with Farlex but that's how you interpret separate entries together.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 17:09
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    @Mitch good point, I've updated my answer to reflect your comments.
    – Gary
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 17:15
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    @gary - I gave you a vote up since someone seems to have voted you down for no reason that I can see. Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 17:32
  • I also +1ed it. I may not agree with your conclusions, but I respect the input.
    – Rattler
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 19:36
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    "gossiper" refer to someone who talk about other people a lot, and Walter Cronkite talked about other people a lot, but it would be weird to refer to Cronkite as a gossiper. Just looking at dictionary definitions is not enough. Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 4:46

There is an historical tidbit in the US which slightly colors the definition. During "prohibition", from 1920 to 1933, the term "booze" gained more traction. Though I have no direct knowledge of the details, what I glean from movies of the era is that "booze" was more strongly associated with "hard" liquor. This is partly true because the manufacture, transport, and sale of hard liquor was easier to manage, since smaller volumes were needed to convey a given level of intoxication and to demand a given price, and hence hard liquor was the preferred product of the illicit alcohol trade.

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