How Much is a Buttload, Exactly?

If you went out drinking last weekend, maybe you drank more than you should have. Colloquially speaking, maybe you drank a “buttload.” It — “buttload” — is sophomoric, catch-all term for “a lot.” It does not mean (hopefully) that you drank beer out of someone else’s backside. In fact, when addressing the size or amounts of things, butts should rarely be part of the conversation.

So, where does “buttload” come from? And how much, exactly, is a “buttload”? 

Don’t worry — no body parts are involved in the answer. While we have one word “butt” today, its many definitions have different etymologies. The part you sit on (sit with?) probably comes from the French word “butte,” which means “mound.” The “butt of a joke” also likely comes from French, but it’s derived from the word “but” which translates to “goal” or “aim.”

The unit of measurement, though, has a totally separate history. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, that “butt” comes from the Old French word “bot,” which translates to “barrel,” while Gizmodo says that “butt actually comes from ‘botte,’ a Medieval French and Italian word for boot,” which later became “barrel” as well. So either way, a “butt” refers to a cask of some sort.  Before units of measurement were standardized, those involved in the booze business used the size of these casks to describe the amount they had for sale, as seen below (via Wikipedia). And yes, butts — second from the left — were once used as an actual unit of measure. 

Per the above, a butt is half a tun (yes, “tun”). The exact amount of liquid in a tun isn’t clear, unfortunately, and probably never was. When tuns and butts were used as common measurements, they weren’t quite standardized; different distilleries and wineries would use slightly different measures. But in general, a “tun” is about 250 to 300 gallons (or 950 to 1,100 liters). An empty butt, in turn, can hold about 125 to 150 gallons (475 to 550 liters) of wine, whiskey, ale, etc. A full cask of those? That’s a buttload.

So if you actually drank a literal buttload of wine this weekend, you had about 3,500 glasses of it (at five ounces or 150mL per glass). The good news is you’re probably not drunk, but the bad news is that’s because there’s no way you could have survived the experien

Bonus fact: The town of Conisbrough, England, has about 14,000 people living there, some of whom live on a 380 foot-long (120m) road called “Archer Way.” But if you look at a map of the town from fifteen years ago, you won’t see Archer Way — the street used to be called  “Butt Hole Road.” Per the New York Times, the butt was probably, again, a reference to a container of liquid; “the name most likely has to do with the spot’s historic function as a source of water, a water butt being a container for collecting water.” But that’s not what people think about when they think about buttholess. In 2009, residents of Butt Hole Road, fed up with being the butt of jokes, changed the street’s name.

From the Archives: The Russian Torpedo Targeting Alcoholism (and Butts): Unfortunately, these butts aren’t a unit of measure.