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The meaning and origin of the expression: Tired and emotional

Tired and emotional

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Tired and over emotional'?

Euphemism for drunk.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Tired and over emotional'?

The British satirical magazine Private Eye has been poking fun at prominent people for many years and has, as a consequence, often been sued for libel. In the 1960s the Eye needed a way of pointing out that someone was a drunkard without saying it explicitly and the formula they opted for was 'tired and emotional'; which their readers came to understand but which wasn't unequivocally defamatory. The expression may not have been coined by Private Eye writers but they certainly popularised it.

The most celebrated use of the phrase, in a modified form, was in regard to the Labour Cabinet Minister George Brown. A September 1967 edition of Private Eye contained this:

Mr. Brown has been tired and overwrought on many occasions.

Whether they used 'tired and overwrought' or 'tired and emotional', as was used several times later, they had a ready defence which was that the expression was ambiguous. They could also point to it being used without any implication of drunkenness in other reports, for example this piece from the Edinburgh Evening News, June 1926:

A small grey-haired woman with a tired and emotional voice.

'Tired and emotional' mirrors a similar euphemism from the heyday of Fleet Street: 'unwell'. I think there's little chance of being sued for libel by writing that the journalist Jeffrey Barnard was a notorious drunk. Whenever he wasn't able to produce his regular column in the Spectator the euphemism they printed was 'Jeffrey Barnard is unwell'.

Although I am confident that Private Eye used the 'tired and emotional' form in the 1960s I can't find an explicit record of it. The first example that I can find of the phrase is in the script of the1981 BBC comedy Yes Minister, written by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay:

Another paper's headline was Hacker tired and emotional after embassy reception.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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