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Do you skol or scull a beer?

Apr 20, 2015

It seems that when Tony Abbott downed a glass of beer in a Sydney pub, he triggered a discussion on the rights and wrongs of seeing our prime minister apparently encouraging binge drinking. A second conversation followed as to whether he had skolled or sculled his beer.

The Scandinavian drinking toast Skol! was adopted by the Scots in the early 1600s and spelt in various ways – skole or scoll or skoal – until the spelling in British English finally settled down as skol. The Australian innovation has been to change the vowel sound and arrive at the spelling scull. The first evidence for this spelling that I can find is in the description of a student competition in the early 1980s. There is an amusing account of the ANU Bush Week celebrations in 1981 in which speakers from the National Organisation for Reform of Marijuana Laws waited in vain for an audience while in the room next to them a beer-sculling competition was taking place. ‘It’s amazing’, said Mr Kew. ‘Here we are watching all these people abuse themselves with a drug which is 2000 times more potent than a similar dose of marijuana and it’s not only legal but greatly admired’.

In the 1980s the scull spelling would have been regarded as an ignorant respelling of skol based on pronunciation, but it appears to have settled in to the extent where most people would use the word to mean ‘to consume (a drink) at one draught’, as a synonym for knocking back a drink or chug-a-lugging it. While not exactly regarding it as a formal word, because the activity is inherently informal, they would not think that there was any problem with the scull spelling, or indeed necessarily relate it to skol.

Want some help with other common confusables? Check out our other comparison blogs


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2 Comments

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Anne Reed - May 19, 2015, 11:48 a.m.

Who is Mr Kew?


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Macquarie Dictionary Admin - May 26, 2015, 11:04 a.m.

Mr Kew was one of the speakers from the National Organisation for Reform of Marijuana Laws.

There is an amusing account of the ANU Bush Week celebrations in 1981 in which speakers from the National Organisation for Reform of Marijuana Laws waited in vain for an audience while in the room next to them a beer-sculling competition was taking place. ‘It’s amazing’, said Mr Kew. ‘Here we are watching all these people abuse themselves with a drug which is 2000 times more potent than a similar dose of marijuana and it’s not only legal but greatly admired’.


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