- Paul Anthony Jones
The Siege of Gibraltar
(phr.) an expression used to excuse having a drink, no matter the time or the day
One fact that keeps popping up in our mentions over on Haggard Hawks is this brilliant expression from naval slang:
So toasting the Siege of Gibraltar is essentially the old naval equivalent of “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!”.
There’s only so much room to tell a story over on Twitter, of course. So here—from the HH collection of global etymologies, Around the World in 80 Words—is the full story of toasting the Siege of Gibraltar.
If someone were to ask you what year the Siege of Gibraltar took place, what would you say? If you answered 1779, then kudos to you. If you answered, ‘which one?’, then even better; you’re obviously a genius. Or a naval historian.
The fact is that Gibraltar occupies such a strategically formidable a position on the far southern tip of the European mainland that it has been invaded, bombarded and besieged on no fewer than fourteen separate occasions throughout history—from the First Siege of Gibraltar in 1309, which saw the Moors hand control of the area to the Kingdom of Castile, to the last and so-called Great Siege, which lasted four years, 1779–83.
That violent history can’t have been much fun for the locals, it has to be said, but it does at least have a silver lining: the sailors of the British Navy managed to get a joke out of it. In eighteenth-century naval slang, anyone who fancied a drink but couldn’t think of a good enough excuse to have one (or, alternatively, had been caught with a drink and been questioned why they were on the booze at whatever time they were discovered_ would reply that they were commemorating “the anniversary of the Siege of Gibraltar”. The joke was that given the sheer number of Gibraltese sieges in the military history books, it was likely that, regardless of the date, there was an anniversary of at least one coming up sometime soon.
Before long, the expression the Siege of Gibraltar had slipped into broader use in English slang as an excuse for a drink, whether warranted or not, regardless of the date or time of day.