"Is the meaning of the word 'sober' really as flexible as some people today think it is? Maybe. In a time when almost everything falls into the subjective gray area, why can't the true meaning behind the word sober also be up for discussion?"
This musing from Searidge Foundation, an alcohol rehab and recovery program in Nova Scotia, was in response to "The New Sobriety," an article by Alex Williams that appeared in the New York Times waaaaay back in 2019.
"We all know what sobriety used to be: sober, in all meanings of the word," he wrote. "The simple act of waving off wine at a dinner party used to be interpreted as a tacit signal that you were in recovery, 'on the wagon,' unless you were visibly pregnant or had known religious objections."
As the article went on to describe, the meaning long associated with being "sober" has morphed into something, well, other. Increasingly, people are abstaining from alcohol and other substances due to personal choice, curiosity or a whole host of reasons that have nothing to do with addiction, dependency, pregnancy, or religious objections. Rosamund Dean -- journalist, author of Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life and fairy godmother of intentional sobriety -- says "Mindful drinking is noticing those [behaviors or triggers that lead to drinking] and dealing with them to try and make healthier choices."
These days, sobriety can be as much a lifestyle decision as it is a life-saving one. And in a culture where alcohol is omnipresent — at every occasion from birthday parties to baby showers, from breakfast to that end-of-the-evening nightcap — temporary temperance can be, well, rather refreshing.
With this shift in thinking has also come an entirely new vocabulary, one that takes necessity out of the sober equation. The phrases sober curious, mindful drinking, no-and-low, and soberish all describe the kinda-sorta-sober, gray-area-middle-ground between full sobriety and the choice to simply imbibe less, or less often. The idea is that you're not not drinking, you're just...not drinking.
Yet, these terms have failed to appear in our official American lexicon. A search of the Merriam-Webster dictionary doesn't turn up a single result for soberish, mindful drinking, sober curious, or no-and-low. Neither does the Cambridge dictionary. Dictionary.com? Zip, zero, zilch, nada. Only Urban Dictionary gets close, stating that soberish is, "the act of being less drunk than the rest of your friends." Not exactly what we'd call inspiring.
So hey, gatekeepers of the modern language! Get with the program. Spiritless humbly submits the following for consideration in your next unabridged guide to the English language: