Tired and emotional

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The phrase "tired and emotional" is a chiefly British euphemism for alcohol intoxication. 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. The restraints of parliamentary language 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 the phrase as having joined "those 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]



In 1937, BBC commentator Thomas Woodrooffe had behaved so oddly on radio that he was suspended for a week; the BBC's official explanation was that he had been "tired and emotional", an excuse that was new at the time. [4]

According to legend, George 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 on ITV, and although he was criticised for his apparent intoxication, [5] 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 election agent, Edward Eldred, who made excuses for him after he had behaved badly in public by saying that he was "tired and emotional". [6] 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", and The Independent said "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'." [5] The 1993 biography by journalist Peter Paterson, which included Brown's "fondness for the bottle", [7] was titled Tired and Emotional: The Life of Lord George Brown.


In 2002, Irish football analyst Eamon Dunphy appeared on RTÉ, the Republic of 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." [8]

In 2004, Private Eye noted when The Sun newspaper, after an incident involving Prince Harry, then 20, attacking a member of the paparazzi following a night out at a London club quoted a "senior Clarence House source" as saying of Harry, "He'd been drinking and was tired and emotional." [9]

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. He also used the term in relation to Drašković in a BBC news article entitled "Change in the air in Belgrade". [10]

The Wall Street Journal used the euphemism [11] in September 2010 to describe the Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen after he was accused by Fine Gael politician Simon Coveney on Twitter of being "halfway between drunk and hung over" during an early morning radio interview. [12]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 Nigel Rees (28 May 2002). Cassell's Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. Sterling Publishing Company. p. 292. ISBN   0-304-36225-5.
  2. Jessica Hodgson (7 November 2001). "Private Eye hails libel victory". The Guardian . London. Retrieved 23 February 2007.
  3. Sally Adams; Hicks, Wynford (26 June 2001). Interviewing for Journalists . Routledge. pp.  190. ISBN   0-415-22913-8. tired.and.emotional private.eye.
  4. Murray, Scott (16 June 2009). "Joy of Six: Broadcasting under the influence | Scott Murray". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  5. 1 2 Sean O'Grady (3 September 2006). "Rear window: The original 'tired and emotional' politician". The Independent . Retrieved 23 February 2007.
  6. Kelly, Jon (15 May 2013). "The 10 most scandalous euphemisms". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  7. "Tired and Emotional". Contemporary Review. September 1993. Retrieved 23 February 2007.
  8. Eithne Donnellan (10 June 2002). "Dunphy admits guilt after RTÉ suspension from Cup". Irish Times . Retrieved 24 February 2007.
  9. Collins, Lauren (14 November 2011). "Tired And Emotional". The New Yorker. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  10. "Change in the air in Belgrade". BBC News. 1 May 1999. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  11. Fottrell, Quentin (14 September 2010). "Was Ireland's Prime Minister Tired and Emotional on Early Morning Radio?". The Wall Street Journal.
  12. Sheridan, Kathy (18 September 2010). "A very Irish hangover". The Irish Times. Retrieved 26 October 2020.