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The phrase tired and emotional is a chiefly British euphemism for drunk. It was popularised by the British satirical magazine Private Eye in 1967 after being used in a spoof diplomatic memo to describe the state of Labour Cabinet minister George Brown,[1] but is now used as a stock phrase, possibly because of British slander and libel law. The restraints of the parliamentary language also mean it is unacceptable in the House of Commons to accuse an MP of being drunk, but one may use this or other euphemisms such as not quite himself and overwrought. The Guardian describes it as having joined the "phrases that are part of every journalist's vocabulary".[2] Because of this widespread interpretation, one source cautions professional British journalists against its use as "even if the journalist ... meant it literally", it could be considered defamatory.[3]


According to an urban legend, Brown appeared on the BBC following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, and a BBC presenter subsequently described him as "tired and emotional".[1] In reality, Brown appeared only on ITV, and although he was criticised for his apparent intoxication,[4] no evidence of the phrase being broadcast has been found.[1]

It is also said to have its origin in a statement to the Press by Brown's agent, Edward Eldred, who made excuses for him after he had behaved badly in public by saying that he was "tired and emotional". Others were less forgiving and one Foreign Office official said that "Mr. Brown was as tired and emotional as a newt." ("Pissed as a newt" is a British slang term for very drunk.)

The phrase became associated with Brown, who already had a reputation for alcohol abuse; The Sunday Times wrote that "George Brown drunk is a better man than Harold Wilson sober", but according to The Independent,

Brown became a bit of a figure of fun, and, thanks to Private Eye's favourite euphemism for his regular condition, he bequeathed the English language the expression "tired and emotional"

The 1993 Peter Paterson biography, which among other things described "his fondness for the bottle",[5] was titled Tired and Emotional: The Life of Lord George Brown.

Other notable incidents

In 2002, controversial Irish football analyst Eamon Dunphy appeared on RTÉ, Ireland's state broadcaster, during its coverage of the 2002 World Cup, and was taken off-air during the programme and suspended. Dunphy subsequently apologised to viewers, saying, "I arrived for work tired and emotional, I think is the euphemism and I was tired. I'd had a few drinks, I hadn't slept and I think wasn't fit to fulfil my contract".[6]

In 2004, Private Eye noted when The Sun newspaper, after an incident involving Prince Harry, then 20, quoted a "senior Clarence House source" as saying that Harry was "fired up. He'd been drinking and was tired and emotional."[7]

BBC foreign affairs correspondent John Simpson described the "erratic" Serbian politician Vuk Drašković as "tired and emotional" in a live news report from Belgrade broadcast on the UK evening news, knowing that the British audience would understand the meaning. The only remaining description of Drašković in this way is in the article "Change in the air in Belgrade".[8]

The Wall Street Journal used the euphemism[9] in September 2010 to describe the Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen after he was accused by Fine Gael politician Simon Coveney on Twitter or being "halfway between drunk and hung over" during an early morning radio interview.[10]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Nigel Rees (2002-05-28). Cassell's Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. Sterling Publishing Company. pp. 292. ISBN 0304362255.
  2. Jessica Hodgson (November 7, 2001). "Private Eye hails libel victory". London:,4273,4293836,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-23.
  3. Sally Adams; Hicks, Wynford (2001-06-26). Interviewing for Journalists. Routledge. pp. 190. ISBN 0415229138.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Sean O'Grady (September 3, 2006). "Rear window: The original 'tired and emotional' politician". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-02-23.
  5. "Tired and Emotional". Contemporary Review. September 1993. Retrieved 2007-02-23.
  6. Eithne Donnellan (June 10, 2002). "Dunphy admits guilt after RTÉ suspension from Cup". Irish Times. Retrieved 2007-02-24.
  7. Paul Thompson, Martel Maxwell, and Virginia Wheeler (October 22, 2004). "Harry Potty". The Sun.,,2-2004491105,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-23.
  8. "Change in the air in Belgrade". BBC News. 1999-05-01. Retrieved 2010-05-25.
  9. Fottrell, Quentin (2010-09-14). "Was Ireland's Prime Minister Tired and Emotional on Early Morning Radio?". The Wall Street Journal.

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