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Sep 10, 2017
Hugh Dellar

Phrase of the day: one for the road

As you may have noticed from our last post, we ran our first-ever Lexical Lab summer school in London this summer. As well as designing, running and teaching on the courses, we also put together a full social and cultural programme for everyone. Most afternoons, we took students to less-visited corners of London that we figured they’d never otherwise get to see. We also tried to give our students some deeper sense of the social, cultural, historical and political background to the city they were staying in – and it seems to have been one of the things that they really apreciated, judging from the glowing feedback we received.

On top of all that, we also organised a few evening outings – to the theatre, to our favourite Turkish restaurant and, of course, to the pub. As we kept on telling our students, the pub is where much of our socialising goes on; it’s where we go to relax and shoot the breeze; and it’s where a lot of team building, group bonding and just general getting-to-know-you happens.

There’s a whole book to be written about pub etiquette (don’t sit down at a table before you’ve ordered a drink; don’t expect anyone to come and serve you at your table; pay after each round of drinks you order, and so on!) and another to be written about useful language (I’ll get this one, What’re you having? Whose round is it? etc.). However, one phrase that always seemed to come up was one for the road.

It’d be getting late; a fair few students would already have left and gone home and we’d be wondering if maybe it was time to call it a night and head home ourselves. We’d drain what was left of our pints, place the empty glasses on the table and make vague comments about how we probably ought to get going. It’s at this exact moment that someone usually optimistically asks “Anyone fancy one last one for the road?” and a final round is purchased, thus delaying the dreaded moment of departure a little while longer.

One for the road means one last alcoholic drink before leaving, and it was fun to learn how other languages express this idea. For instance, our Ukrainian students told us they’d say One for the horse back home, while the Spanish are possibly more honest than the Englsh – or else just drink more – as they say ‘Does anyone fancy the penultimate? (= the one before the final one!).

In fact, my dad used to do something similar when drinking with his friends as he’d offer one for the road and then one for the cats’ eyes. Cats’ eyes are the objects in the middle of the road that reflect a car’s headlights and help you see when you’re driving at night. I’d long believed this expression was unique to my father, but later heard in a song by the wonderful Ronnie Lane, so maybe it was a generational thing! This was, lest we forget, the  1970s – the golden age of drink driving, when deaths on the road peaked around Christmas!

I’m proud to have kept the phrase, but lost the habit!

Want to learn more about our summer school? Click here.

  • Is there an expression like One for the road in your language? Do you ever use it?
  • Is drink driving much of a problem in your country? Have habits changed?
  • Do you still say anything your parents used to say? What? Why?
  • Have you been on any group bonding / team building sessions? What were they like? What did they involve?

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