Say there is a glass of water, and someone drank it (dipping their lips, i.e. not from a distance pouring water into their mouth). Now the glass of water is (somewhat) impure, containing the saliva of the person.

What is the word in English that denotes the water is impure in the sense that the water has been drunk by someone?


13 Answers 13


"Has backwash"

I'm not sure how widely used this term is, but on road trips as a child in New Zealand I remember our father admonishing us for poor technique in drinking straight out of a shared soda bottle, causing backwash of spit into the bottle. Wiktionary has it as the 4th definition:

The saliva, spit or food particles that have flowed back into a drink after someone has drunk from it.

I wouldn't use it in a very formal situation however. It's a step further from explicitly talking about saliva but still close enough to be a bit crass.

  • 11
    I live in the United States and the word "backwash" seems to be common here too. Jul 8, 2020 at 3:37
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    @juztcode I'd say "that glass has backwash in it" or "that one has backwash", I don't think there's a single-word adjective for it
    – llama
    Jul 8, 2020 at 5:16
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    @juztcode The term 'backwash' meaning flow and the term 'backwash' in the sense used here are different. 'Backwash' meaning flow is a term used in plumbing and related fields, meaning that the goal of a system is that a fluid flow in one direction, and thus 'backwash' is a thing to be avoided. Thus you might have, "I put in a one way valve to avoid backwash'. The term 'backwash' as used above is used, in the parts of the US I've lived in, in more of a child training setting. "Don't drink each other's backwash! It's unsanitary!" Teenagers might say, "I don't mind a little backwash." Jul 9, 2020 at 13:23
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    Agreed with @VaughnOhlman - this is definitely a phrase that I wouldn't suggest an adult use. It's really a phrase that's used by kids and teenagers and would sound awkward coming from an adult, I think.
    – J...
    Jul 9, 2020 at 17:48
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    As a US native speaker, to me, "has backwash" sounds like someone drank from the cup, swished the water around their mouth, and then spit it back into the cup. I would just say "has been drunk from". Also @VaughnOhlman the plumbing term is "backflow". Jul 9, 2020 at 19:36

This would depend on how severe you consider the outcome to be - contaminated is the most obvious, but strongly suggests that the water is now undrinkable, while dirty is more of a middle ground.

I can't think of a single word that has the meaning of "containing saliva", so I would probably say has been drunk from or similar.

If the glass was empty, then you would often hear it described as used but that doesn't really work well if the glass is still fairly full.

  • 4
    I would have thought used was OK even if it were almost full.
    – mdewey
    Jul 7, 2020 at 13:55
  • contaminated or dirty is just too general, since it doesn't imply a person has drunk the glass of water. and used probably doesn't imply it was drunk
    – juztcode
    Jul 7, 2020 at 14:08
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    We don't have the same concept of water being 'impure' in those circumstances; we would just say something like "Someone has already drunk from that glass". Jul 7, 2020 at 14:42
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    @DeanF. Obviously, that is not my point.
    – Lambie
    Jul 7, 2020 at 19:49
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    @juztcode I would suggest that the odds are, that a glass that has been used has indeed been drunk from. There are probably a thousand and one other ways to use a glass, but all of them combined will be a fraction of a percent of overall usage.
    – MikeB
    Jul 8, 2020 at 8:45

I upvoted Mike Brockington's answer, but I wanted to specifically put forward "that glass is used" and "that glass has been drunk out of" as natural ways to express what you want in ordinary conversation. It's what you would say if someone picked up a glass from the counter that you knew someone else had already drunk from. You probably wouldn't say it was "contaminated", partially (I think) because that tends to reflect poorly on the person who had drunk from the glass. (I'm in the US, so this may be specific to US English.)

Added later: I also don't think you would ordinarily say "that glass has backwash" in that context. I remember, from my childhood, another kid telling me "the last sip from a bottle of Coke is 90% backwash". So it's certainly the word for the saliva that gets left behind, but if all you want to indicate is that somebody has put the glass to their lips, saying it "has backwash" is probably a bit strong.

  • 4
    "That glass has been drunk out of" is the (somewhat ugly) idiomatic way to express it in British English too.I think we are more likely to say "That glass has been used" than "That glass is used" though. +1
    – abligh
    Jul 9, 2020 at 7:50
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    I'd echo the "that's a used glass" formation. Jul 9, 2020 at 20:22

There is not a specific word or phrase that maps to what you want, but typically when someone drinks from a glass [or uses pretty much any dishware or shared object for that matter] there is now an implied ownership relationship, eg: "Whose glass is this?" and "Don't drink from that glass, it's Juztcode's.", even if they do not literally own the glass.

Now that I think of it there is probably a cultural component in that implication of the glass that someone's using as being "dirty" or "contaminated", as suggested by others, could be interpreted a reflection on the user as the same, or that the thing was unclean to being with.

However, once the person is finished using it that implication of ownership falls away and saying something like "Let me clear away these dirty dishes." or "Please put your dirty dishes in the sink." wouldn't necessarily cause any offense.

That said, the state of the water itself would be a secondary implication deriving from the state of the glass, or might be referred to instead of the glass, eg: "That's Jusztcode's water.".


The most common terms are very simple: this would be a “used” or “dirty” glass.

  • This only applies to empty dishes, not ones that still contain food and are being used.
    – J...
    Jul 10, 2020 at 9:38

I'm not aware of any one word in English that means "someone has already drunk from this glass". If there is such a word, it's not in common use. At least, not among people I talk to.

You have to use several words or a full sentence to describe what you are trying to say. Like, "Someone has been drinking from this glass, it may not be sanitary."


It sounds like you're looking for an English translation of the South Asian concept of Jootha, known by a variety of spellings and pronunciations in languages in the region, but generally describing food or drink that has been 'touched' by another person.

English has no concept like this — it does not translate directly.

Among English speaking adults, the concept tends more towards ownership rather than contamination. If John has had a drink from a glass we simply say that it is "John's water", or "John's glass". This is primarily to avoid suggesting that John had 'contaminated' the glass, or was unclean in some way as this could be seen as being rude. Possession is therefore used as a polite way to avoid conjuring ideas of germs or uncleanliness which most people don't want to be associated with. Of course, we don't want to eat food someone has already eaten from either, but it tends simply to not be talked about so directly.

If you're at a social gathering and there is food out on tables you might ask if a particular item "is for everyone" or whether it is someone else's. To say that a plate is "John's plate" will be understood to mean that he has selected items out on offer for everyone and has placed them on a plate for himeself (which he may have already eaten from, or is intending to).

Food that is out on offer "for everyone" is generally handled with utensils or tools so as to not 'contaminate' the food, and it is generally understood that if food is "for anyone" then you can assume it hasn't been tasted or touched by anyone else. For any food that has, we tend to simply say that the food now 'belongs' to someone, and the usual social rules for taking, using, or touching someone's property then also apply by extension to the food.


How about, “That’s not yours.” Or, “That’s no longer clean.” That seems to work in the U.S. Especially now, during the pandemic.

Although there are phrases to indicate that water is no longer drinkable (non-potable, contaminated, etc.), there is really not a universal phrase to indicate that drinkable water should not be drunken by someone else. At least, not in polite company. Generally, we will do things like mark our individual receptacles with writing, symbols, charms, or drink containers of differing colors to indicate that one should drink only from their own beverage. Generally, it is just understood not to drink from/of any item that you can not positively identify as untampered, and yours and yours alone. Especially around strangers.

However, there is a universal phrase in the U.S.A. for a liquid that is to be shared out of the same container. It is the same phrase for sharing a meal item from a central dish for your table (as opposed to a buffet table). It is called ”Family-Style”. It is very typical for alcoholic beverages (or, sometimes even water) in outdoor or rustic environments like camping, farming, sports, and field work to be shared Family-Style. Although, it is typically considered impolite, uncouth, and socially unacceptable to place your mouth or any other body part on the opening of a communal beverage container when there are individual containers to which you can transfer the beverage, even amongst your own family. It is not uncommon to share or allow a family member or really really close friend to taste an item from your own container or utensil.

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    The question says: already drank out of the glass. That's not yours. would not work there.
    – Lambie
    Jul 7, 2020 at 19:45
  • @Lambie - The question says that, “there is a glass of water, and something drunk/someone drank” from it. It does not state who originally owned the glass. Nor, if the person who they are going to address is the original owner, the surreptitious drinker, a new or future owner, or themselves. This makes, “That’s not yours” a possibility even in self-dialogue. The broader context of the answer is that there is not a universal answer to fit all possible scenarios. But, it is a slightly shorter response than, “Please, don’t drink that.” Although, with similar (hopefully) results.
    – Dean F.
    Jul 7, 2020 at 20:15
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    I spent my childhood in the US, and I literally never heard of communally-shared food referred to as "family-style". It might be a part of a regional dialect, though.
    – nick012000
    Jul 8, 2020 at 4:10
  • @nick012000 - When were you here? I’ve lived here my entire life, in several different places. Passing the (alcohol) bottle around used to commonly be referred to as drinking FamilyxStyle. Now, you can go to certain restaurants all over the U.S. where side dishes are served Family-Style. Trust me, I’m a bit of a traveling foodie. If you haven’t been in the states in this century, Google it.
    – Dean F.
    Jul 8, 2020 at 5:20
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    @nick012000 - I now reside in The South. Though, it has been a couple of years since I have spent extended periods of time in TN or MS. I plan on visiting The Great Smoky Mountains (Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, etc) this year. I can assure you, the term is well used there as well. The last time I was in Vicksburg, some of the restaurants around the casino area will service the tables that way. Though, I can not say I recommend any of them. On the other hand, a good olde fashioned Texas BBQ is a must. And, except for your own steak, family-style is the best way to partake. Individual beers, though
    – Dean F.
    Jul 8, 2020 at 5:50

If you're trying to tell someone else not to drink from the glass you could just say "<person> already drank from that". Which would be acceptable in any situation. As noted English has no single word for this concept.

In a non-formal situation I'd say "it has <person>'s cooties".

In my mind proper drinking technique does not leave "backwash" so claiming that would be an insult to the drinker.

  • 1
    "Cooties" is a word used by children. This is ESL, so it's important to make it clear that 'cooties' is probably a word that should be avoided by someone aspiring to learn conversational, adult English.
    – J...
    Jul 10, 2020 at 9:40

Contains spittle from (personal nomenclature here).


As others have said, there is no word for this concept in English. Kids would say "It's got germs in it".

Possible words you could use are defiled, tainted, spoiled or contaminated, but these all suggest that something toxic, such as a poison, has been added to the water.

Defiled is often used when "pure" things, such as nature, get spoiled.

Cambridge Dictionary definitions

Defile: to spoil something or someone so that that thing or person is less beautiful or pure

Taint: to spoil something or give it an unpleasant quality

Spoil: to destroy or reduce the pleasure, interest, or beauty of something. When food spoils or is spoiled, it is no longer good enough to eat.

Contaminate: to make something less pure or make it poisonous


In the UK, crudely and using slang, you might say:

You've gobbed in it.


It's been gobbed in.

You can find broad definitions for "gob" and "gobbed" in dictionaries, but this particular meaning seems only to be listed in tongue-in-cheek street ones like the Urban Dictionary.

  • 6
    This would mean that someone had deliberately spat in it; not what the op was asking for.
    – peterG
    Jul 8, 2020 at 22:51
  • @peterG No, not necessarily (though that is more common). Jul 8, 2020 at 22:52
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    Well where I live (NW UK) that would be the unambiguous meaning. Also, it's not the specific word (which I've not heard since I was at school, a long time ago) but the structure of the sentence that implies a deliberate action.
    – peterG
    Jul 8, 2020 at 23:05
  • @peterG As I'm sure you're aware, idioms vary a lot across our nation. There are also strong generational variations; for example, since your profile indicates that you are a retiree, it's unlikely that you're going around calling things "sick", whereas that's extremely commonplace in teenagers and 20-somethings in many areas, to mean "good"! Regardless, there's really no point in arguing about it, because I'm not lying 🤣 Jul 8, 2020 at 23:32
  • @J... I was very clear that it was UK-specific, crude and slang, and that you might say it. This isn't Geordie or Scouse. It's not "obscure", or from "one corner of a tiny island". Drop the ridiculous and offensive denigration. Jul 10, 2020 at 10:00

It seems words get into the dictionary as per their usage stats (According to Marriam-Webstar). So, let's call it spottled water. Any comments?

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