Richard Hershberger has been making regular Facebook posts about his specialty, early baseball (including a series “150 years ago today in baseball” which is always enjoyable reading), but sometimes he makes posts having nothing to do with the game, and one such is this, presenting a cartoon from the Pittsburg Press of March 4, 1894 (note the old spelling of the city’s name). The caption of the first panel begins “Nothing like a lard bucket for a growler,” and that reminded me of the much-missed Daily Growler (the blog of Mike Greene, aka thegrowlingwolf) and also made me wonder if I’d ever posted about this use, meaning (in the words of Green’s Dictionary of Slang) “a container, usu. a covered pail with a carrying handle, in which beer is purchased at a tavern, then brought home for consumption.” It turns out I hadn’t, so I’m doing so now. Alas, nobody knows its etymology; Green (“All Green[e]s are kin,” Mike used to say) has this roundup of possibilities:

[ety. unknown; ? the growling, grating noise of the can as it slid, full of beer, across the bar, or the ‘growling’ or grumbling of the children who were sent on the errand, or the drunken arguing that ensued among recipients of the liquor; for full discussion see Cohen, Studies in Slang VI (1999) pp.1–20]

His first citation, offering its own hypothesis, is from 1883:

Trenton (NJ) Times 20 June 2/2: The growler is the latest New York institution. It is a beer can, the legitimate outgrowth of the enforcement of the Sunday liquor law. Young men stand on the sidewalk and drink their beer out of a can, which, as fast as emptied, is sent to be refilled where-ever its bearer can find admittance. It is called the growler because it provokes so much trouble in the scramble after beer.

But I expect that can be antedated using all the resources now available. At any rate, it’s an excellent word.

Incidentally, the second panel of the cartoon has the caption “Just then, he trod on a banana peeling”; as I commented on FB:

I’m struck by the phrase “banana peeling”; the OED knows only the familiar “banana peel” (first citation 1870).

I also can’t resist quoting the last entry in this week’s NYT Metropolitan Diary:

Dear Diary:

It was sometime in the mid-1980s, and I was at a rather pretentious specialty-food shop in Midtown. As I waited on the prepared food line, I noticed a well-dressed man behind me.

When it was my turn, I said I wanted a pound of the “porseeny” ravioli.

As the person at the counter prepared my order, the well-dressed man tapped me on the arm.

“Excuse me,” he said, “but in Italian, it’s pronounced ‘por-chee-knee.’”

I thanked him for correcting my error, took my package and was turning to leave when I heard him order four pieces of the “jal-o-peeno” cornbread.

I turned around and tapped him on the arm.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but in Spanish, it’s pronounced ‘hal-eh-pen-yo.’”

Jerry Wolbert

That must have been satisfying!

Addendum. I almost forgot: Hershberger also has a FB post showing the nameplate (often called “masthead,” but not by newspaper pros) of a 19th-century Kansas paper called the Sunday Growler!


  1. Maybe not distant from base ball, as the NY Growlers team played the NYToughs, then had “generous division of beer,” according to the [NY] Sun Sept. 8, 1883, 3/5.
    The Growlers won; won “….five kegs of beer.”

  2. As a Brit, I was surprised when, 10 year’s ago, US craft beer jargon came here. A growler here is something entirely different.

    Some terrible misogyny from the Spectator, home to Boris Johnson and Taki.

    And some less hateful context

  3. Nowadays growlers seem to be mostly brown glass half-gallon jugs (in the American sense of large bottles with handles), at least in the Mid-Atlantic United States. The word was probably mostly dead until the growth of craft breweries in the last decade or two.

  4. Well, I’m glad it’s been revived!

  5. Dan Milton says

    There was a little man and he had a little can
    And he used to rush the growler
    He went to the saloon on a Sunday afternoon
    And you ought to hear the bartender holler
    No more beer, no more beer
    No more beer on Sunday
    You got to get your can filled Monday.

    Remembered from childhood.

  6. I learned of growlers about the same time I learned of sliders. I guess the former were revived about the same time as the latter were invented.

  7. It was a regular “Growlers Club,” drinking beer from a kettle fetched to them on the truck.

    New York Dispatch, Sept. 10, 1882, 1/3, Library of Congress newspapers.

  8. Some of my growlers in a tweet about hurricane preparation.

  9. In early usages it often appears in the expression “to work the growler”.

    Schooner, likewise American, of a like vintage (1879, OED), likewise referring to a container of beer, is likewise obscure.

  10. Photographic Times: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Interests of Artistic and Scientific Photography, 1888:

    A typical group of New York toughs called “The Growlers,” was exhibited, hidden away under one of the dump docks on the East Side. They were factory hands, and got young boys to go after beer which they would drink in these places. A single picture of a young lad eight years old carrying a large pail of beer was quite effective.

  11. Pints of beer are often called “growlers” because the bartenders always “growl” at giving about three glasses for seven cents.

    Proposed in NY Tribune, Oct. 14, 1882, America’s Historical Newspapers

  12. My only direct experience with growler is with the glass jug form mentioned by Kieth Ivey. I’ve never heard of anyone buying a takeout pail of ale nowadays, but the phenomenon was familiar from literature, first encountered in “The Furnished Room” by O. Henry. (This is often cited as one of O. Henry’s best stories, so I recommend you read it if haven’t already.) Although the story does not use the word growler, the landlady’s purchase of beer by the pail seems to be a clue that she is not a respectable or trustworthy individual.

    It was Mrs. McCool’s night to go with the can for beer. So she fetched it and sat with Mrs. Purdy in one of those subterranean retreats where housekeepers forgather and the worm dieth seldom.

  13. This is a long-winded deposition from 1657 from Dutch New York complaining about pails of beer being sold to Indians.

  14. Additional newspapers with the Growler name were in Toronto; Bay City Michigan; and a satirical medical Growler from Manchester, which included making fun of the British Mediical Ass “that has brayed at Newcastle” (1870).

  15. Maybe far-fetched, but some noisy cabs with disreputable drivers were called growlers before some disreputable conveyances for beer were so called.
    (Maybe coincidence, but the Oct. 14, 1882 report mentioned above involved an apparently dishonest cab driver.)

  16. Schooner, likewise American, … referring to a container of beer, is likewise obscure. …

    In Aus/NZ also, schooner is a modest size beer glass. I don’t know about curbing binge drinking: you typically buy a jugful for the table, with a schooner each for the drinkers to decant into.

    In UK pubs, — at least in Southern England — schooner is a double-size Sherry or Port glass, favoured by ‘the missus’. The wiki alleges ” named after the sort of ships that brought sherry over from Spain. The schooner name was more particular to Bristol, to where most sherry was imported, …”

    Despite my mis-spent time drinking in Newcastle, I didn’t know of a ‘Geordie schooner’.

  17. In older Australian growly meant “excellent, outstanding” – but I haven’t heard it for decades, except in jocular utterances of my own. I find it attested in English Transported: Essays on Australasian English, ed. WS Ransom, 1970. Not in the Australian National Dictionary (first edition, at least), nor in OED. Tsk.

    In Aus/NZ also, schooner is a modest size beer glass.

    This term is dominant in New South Wales (and Queensland?), but is heard as foreign in my native Victoria. I have never in my life ordered a schooner – though in my youth I would frequently call for a pot or a glass (beer being understood as the default contents).

  18. >I learned of growlers about the same time I learned of sliders. I guess the former were revived about the same time as the latter were invented.

    What meaning of sliders? As small burgers, the word has been around for decades, probably since the founding of White Castle.

  19. Indeed. But beyond White Castle, sliders started getting ubiquitous in the ’90s or ’00s, I think. That’s about the time that brew pubs were getting big.

  20. The OED has slider meaning “ice cream sandwich” in the British Isles back to 1915. I have always assumed the American burger sense derived from that, but the two could have arisen independently, based on a common metaphor about a greasy middle layer at risk of sliding loose. The OED doesn’t have the burger sense, but Green’s cites claimed memories of it being in use as early as the 1940s, possibly first in the Navy. It was not a really ubiquitous term until this millennium, however.

  21. John Jaques says

    A tentative growler connection is mentioned on this page about pork pies …

  22. David Marjanović says

    a 19th-century Kansas paper called the Sunday Growler!

    I always want to interpret De Volkskrant as containing German Grant, “growling mood”.

    (I think grantig is a bit louder than “grumpy”.)

  23. J.W. Brewer says

    Note the recent/upscale implicature of “growler” as used in the last sentence of this satirical piece:

  24. Richard Hershberger says

    Growler newspapers: the Library of Congress also lists one in Deland, Florida. The Wichita entry is available through The nameplate is magnificent!

  25. Since the “g” in growler clearly means “glass”, one can nowadays also get a “crowler”, which is a 750ml aluminum can of beer. I would have much preferred a “crowler” to be a descendant of “cronut”, whereby ordering one produces both a pint of beer and a croissant.

  26. During Covid restrictions on gatherings inside, many craft breweries did a lot more takeout business. In addition to half-gallon growlers, which customers (like me) bought and filled with their favorite brew to take home, lots of pubs began canning their own brews in 16-oz or 20-oz cans they called “crowlers” (the c- from “can” presumably). A new twist on an old etymology.

    Ah, I see pc beat me to it.

  27. In my experience crowlers are 32 ounces (a quart). A 16 oz can is just the larger of the two normal sizes for beer cans in the US (12 oz and 16 oz), though there are also a few beers, like Sapporo, that come in 22 oz cans. Craft breweries also sometimes have special releases in “bombers”, which are 22 oz bottles.

  28. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I think I’ve always misread Volkskrant as folks-rant…

  29. The place I went for lunch today had a row of 24-oz. brown glass growler bottles sitting on top of their piano when I walked it. Clearly they want to emphasize they sell bulk beer for takeout.

  30. Barbara Phillips Long says

    Grandpa’s Growler was a long-time bar in Mechanicsburg, Pa., until it closed a few years ago:

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