I looked up in the urbandictionary

One Short of A Six Pack

A term used to describe a person who is not all there. A person missing a marble or two - a few percentages off from being full blown retarded.

Another similar slang:

two cans short of a six pack

adj. stupid or crazy; not "all there." oh man, look at this two cans short of a six pack

But I don't know how the means(missing common sense or stupid) comes froms short of a six pack. So could anyone please give me some hints about that?

  • I think the common link between all of the idioms with this meaning is the idea of something whole having some parts missing: "two cans short of a six-pack", "three sandwiches short of a picnic", "two jokers short of a deck". etc. Mar 14 '16 at 14:22
  • @JohnClifford What is the meaning of short here? lack of something?
    – Sayakiss
    Mar 14 '16 at 14:25
  • 1
    If you are "short of" something, it means that you should have it but don't. Like if I bought something costing £3 and I only had £2.54, I'd be short 46 pence. Mar 14 '16 at 14:26
  • "short of" could theoretically be grammatically replaced with "missing from". (also note that it's generally used as an adjective phrase rather than a noun; you wouldn't say "Look at that two cans short of a six-pack" but would instead say "That guy is two cans short of a sick-pack.") Mar 14 '16 at 14:27
  • I never heard of this idiom, is it actually a common phrase? Jul 10 '20 at 4:57

In this usage, short means:

5a : not coming up to a measure or requirement : insufficient in short supply
b : not reaching far enough the throw to first was short
c : enduring privation
d : insufficiently supplied short of cash, short on brains

Sense D is the most exact match; the idea is that a "normal person" has enough sense or capability to achieve a standard measurement (represented by some arbitrary item, in this case a package of beverage containers that normally has 6 units), but the person being talked about does not have enough sense or capability to achieve that same measurement.

"I was X short" is generally used as a quick way to say "I needed (some number N) of something, but I only had (some smaller number, Y)", then X = N - Y, so if you need $12 to buy something but you only have $11, you are one dollar short.

The expression, then, equates intelligence to beer: you need 6 units (cans) to be normal, but the person being discussed is "one short of a six-pack": they have only 5 units of intelligence, not the 6 expected.


You can substitute "sanity" for intelligence in the comparison below:

Six-pack : intelligence :: six-pack missing a can : lower intelligence

Deck of cards: intelligence :: deck of cards missing a card : lower intelligence

He's not playing with a full deck of cards...

He's one (can) short of a six-pack...

Here is a full six-pack:

enter image description here

To be "short" something means that something is missing.

We wanted to play doubles tennis, but there were only three of us. We were one player short and you can't play doubles when you're short one player.

  • Where you want to worry is when people start describing you as six cans short of a six-pack or fifty-two cards short of a deck... Mar 14 '16 at 15:06
  • 2
    Great example for "short" and +1 for the answer, but I feel like someone should mention Canadian doubles in the comments.
    – J.R.
    Jun 13 '17 at 21:56
  • Who knew we were playing a game from The Great White North. Jun 13 '17 at 22:36

There are several idioms that use common occurrences to relate to common sense. For example:

  • If the lights are on in a house, someone must be home.
  • Beers usually come in six-packs.
  • Knives should be sharp.
  • A full deck of cards should have 52 cards.

A lack of common sense can be expressed as:

  • The lights are on. But, nobody’s home.
  • One beer short of a six-pack.
  • Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
  • One short of a full deck.

All of the above make the items useless or less than useful. Similar to a person who lacks common sense.


I think everybody is overthinking this expression. It is reasonable to think “something missing from a whole” (e.g. intelligence, etc...); but if you don’t think it that much it can easily be interpreted as being almost drunk and acting as such. Pretty much with a six pack of beers drunk at a somewhat fast rate, drunkenness will occur and you will behave accordingly. By saying “you are two cans short of a six pack” means you are acting weirdly almost to the point as behaving as being drunk.

  • Welcome to ELL.SE, but I must downvote this because you have presented no evidence for what appears to be a folk etymology. Mental deficiency expressed as an incomplete set of something well predates the existence of six-packs: not sixteen annas to the rupee dates to 1845, for example.
    – choster
    Jul 9 '20 at 22:51
  • Unfortunately, this idiom is a very old and understood one in the U.S. It has nothing to do with drunkenness nor rate of drinking. To use an older idiom, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” It means that you are lacking. In this case, it usually means you are lacking common sense.
    – Dean F.
    Jul 10 '20 at 2:02

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