long drink of water

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Robert Wadlow (1918–1940) with his father Harold Franklin Wadlow. Standing 2.72 m (8 ft 11.1 in), Robert Wadlow was the tallest person ever in recorded history for whom there is irrefutable evidence.

The term originated in the United States, and was presumably used in vaudeville performances.[1] It was derived from earlier Scots lang drink.[2]



long drink of water (plural long drinks of water)

  1. (Scotland, US, slang) A tall person. [from 1910s]
    • [1887, John Service, chapter XVI, in The Life and Recollections of Doctor Duguid of Kilwinning. Written by Himself, and Now First Printed from the Recovered Manuscript, Edinburgh: Young J. Pentland, →OCLC, page 103:
      Stair had grown up into a great lang drink, and would faukled, as Robin Cummell said, if he fell.]
    • 1915 August 1, “Photoplays, Vaudeville and outdoor amusements”, in The Washington Post, page 3, column 1:
      Other acts will include Klein, Abe and Nicholson, “the fat bellboy, the corpulent Scot and ‘the long drink of water,’” in a comedy of melody.
    • 1924 May 10, “The Speaker defied”, in The Times, London, page 12:
      Mr. [David] Kirkwood [Independent Labour Party member] addressed his reproof to Lord Winterton [Edward Turnour, 6th Earl Winterton], who, along with his colleagues, had protested against the defiance of the speaker's ruling. "Ye are not treating with Indians, ye big long drink of water," he shouted. Immediately the Speaker reproved the member for Dumbarton.

Usage notes[edit]

The connotation of the term has varied over time. Early uses appear to be humorous and mildly derogatory in the sense of gangly or lanky. More recent American usage in the 21st century is often positive, suggesting that the person referred to is attractive.[3]

Alternative forms[edit]


  1. ^ Benjamin Zimmer (9 May 2005), “‘(long) drink of water’ (1915)”, in The American Dialect Society Mailing List[1], archived from the original on 2017-12-21.
  2. ^ v., n./headword/full/both/ drink, v., n.” in the Dictionary of the Scots Language, Edinburgh: Scottish Language Dictionaries: “With lang (long): a tall, lanky person. Also a lang drink o' water, []”: see the 1887 quotation.
  3. ^ See, for example, “What Does It Mean to Call Someone a ‘Drink of Water’?”, in English Language & Usage, Stack Exchange[2], 26 March 2015, archived from the original on 2017-04-03; “What’s the Etymology of ‘Tall Drink of Water’?”, in Ask MetaFilter[3], 14 August 2006, archived from the original on 2017-06-03.