Created By: GeneralGooseMarch 21, 2010
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Watering Down

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Do We Have This? Seen It A Million Times.

On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene
But yours was kitchen clean
-- Steely Dan "Kid Charlemagne"

In ten years in this dump, I've come to accept a very low standard of life. But even at the bottom of this fish tank, a man must have standards. The pathetic trou du cul down at Worley Winery has started putting water to his terrible wine... water!!!
-- Pierre Gobbi, Bioshock

Watering down an alcoholic beverage (or some other drug), usually with water for alcohol, but sometimes other substances, is fairly common in both the real world and fiction. Street drugs are also almost always cut with other stuff. It is usually done so as to get more product from smaller amounts of genuine ingredients, yet sometimes used for other purposes.


  • In Bioshock, minor character Pierre Gobbi has an audio diary complaining about the hellhole Rapture is turning out to be; but there is ONE thing he cannot stand: Worley Winery, producers of the fine wine Arcadia Merlot, watering down their wine. They then claim at least they are using distilled water, and not seawater.
  • In the early The Simpsons episode The Crepes of Wrath, the French winemakers water down their wine with antifreeze, then test it on Bart.
  • In Discworld, a certain class of snobs like to label their alcohol with the words spelled backwards, to prevent the servants from stealing. In revenge, their butlers have taken to topping off the whiskey with "eniru" urine.
    • * Also in Discworld, Slide is a troll drug that's even worse than Slab, as it involves any junk lying around and requires pigeon droppings. And Discworld pigeons are described as "effluents on wings"...
  • The book M.Y.T.H. Inc. In Action features Mob enforcer Guido discussing this phenomena, noting it's a way for the bar owner to make more money off less product, and his customers don't mind because less alcohol per glass makes the drink "healthier".
  • In Preacher, Custer starts off his massive The Reason You Suck Speech to the whole town by telling the bartender he can almost taste the beer through all the water.
  • Due to its heavy focus on drug gangs, The Wire features the drug version of this trope in spades, being mainly about drug gangs. (Eg. numbers are thrown around between the gangs to talk about the strength of their product; 'Take it to ten' or 'This stuff is ninety', referring to what percentage of the product is actually the drug), and in hard times, they weaken their product by cutting it with whatever similar-looking substance comes to hand to make more profit. In season two, there are five deaths and eight hospitalizations in the Correctional Facility because the supply of cocaine (if memory serves) has been cut with rat poison.
  • In American Psycho, a couple of the yuppies complain about how the cocaine they've been sold is "a gram of fucking Nutrasweet".
  • One of the minor characters in the Philip K Dick novel Eye in the Sky is a hostess at a club who waters down her own alcoholic drinks (as a large amount of her job is drinking with customers) so as to not get drunk herself.
  • In the film version of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End the ghost of the late Rawlinson Bulldog Gums takes possesssion of his now stuffed body, and urinates through the floor of the upstairs corridor into Sir Henry's drink in the dining hall below. Sir Henry is horrified - the stuffed dog's bladder had been refilled with water. This watering-down is what prompts Henry to finally exorcise the ghost of his brother who put the dog up to it.

Truth In Television
  • Truth In Television to a massive degree. While alcohol with a little bit of water is often forgivable, Scare Em Straight Drugs Are Bad presentations like pointing out how dealers cut marijuana and other drugs with everything from carpet strands to hair. Even camel shit.
  • As mentioned by one of the examples above "hostesses" and "hosts" who work in bars or nightclubs to draw in patrons almost always have their own drinks severely watered down to allow them to not get too soused given the job requires them to drink along with the guests.
  • During Prohibition in the U.S., illegal alcohol was often cut with methyl alcohol, a poison that can cause permanent blindness.
  • The British Royal Navy served "grog" (watered down rum) to its sailors.
  • Rationing in World War Two led to this.
  • More Truth In Television, and perhaps an inversion: a very minute portion of alcohol was always added to water in ancient societies to make it safe(r) to drink. (Even the Apostle Paul, otherwise rather famous for being an ascetic, recommends this in a letter to Timothy because the other had been having stomach problems.)
  • This was done with milk and even bread depressingly often. (Milk would be mixed with water, bread with chalk, plaster, grit and worse...) There's an incredible amount of legislation on this in older legal systems, often putting it on the same severity scale as theft and murder.

Rolling Updates. Up For Grabs.
Community Feedback Replies: 17
  • March 13, 2010
    SylviaSybil
    In Discworld (Hogfather, perhaps?), a certain class of snobs like to label their alcohol with the words spelled backwards, to prevent the servants from stealing. In revenge, their butlers have taken to topping off the whiskey with "eniru" [[hottip:*:urine]].
  • March 13, 2010
    Duckay
    The book M.Y.T.H. Inc. In Action features Mob enforcer Guido discussing this phenomena, noting it's a way for the bar owner to make more money off less product, and his customers don't mind because less alcohol per glass makes the drink "healthier".

    Also note it's not just alcohol that gets this treatment. Drugs like cocaine, heroin, and... well, heck, pretty much any street drug, are almost always cut with other stuff.
  • March 13, 2010
    Chabal2
    • In Preacher, Custer starts off his massive The Reason You Suck Speech to the whole town by telling the bartender he can almost taste the beer through all the water.
    • Also in Discworld, Slide is a troll drug that's even worse than Slab, as it involves any junk lying around and requires pigeon droppings. And Discworld pigeons are described as "effluents on wings"...
    • One Scare Em Straight Drugs Are Bad presentation I went through told us what dealers cut their marijuana with, including such delights as carpet strands, hair, and camel shit.
  • March 13, 2010
    GoatBoy
    Page Quote:
    On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene
    But yours was kitchen clean
    -- Steely Dan "Kid Charlemagne"
  • March 13, 2010
    SKJAM
    "Hostesses" and "hosts" who work in bars or nightclubs to draw in patrons almost always have their own drinks severely watered down to allow them to not get too soused given the job requires them to drink along with the guests.

    One of the minor characters in the Philip K Dick novel Eye In the Sky is such a hostess, and mentions the watered-down drinks.
  • March 13, 2010
    TBeholder
    For those ancient Greeks it was a normal usage, they considered drinking non-thinned wine to be a mark of alcoholic or boor.
  • March 13, 2010
    Duckay
    Also, with regard to street drugs, The Wire features this trope in spades, being mainly about drug gangs. (Eg. numbers are thrown around between the gangs to talk about the strength of their product; 'Take it to ten' or 'This stuff is ninety', referring to what percentage of the product is actually the drug), and in hard times, they weaken their product by cutting it with whatever similar-looking substance comes to hand to make more profit. In season two, there are five deaths and eight hospitalizations in the Correctional Facility because the supply of cocaine (if memory serves) has been cut with rat poison.

    Also in American Psycho, a couple of the yuppies complain about how the cocaine they've been sold is "a gram of fucking Nutrasweet".

    But really, there's tonnes of examples of this, just few are coming to mind.
  • March 14, 2010
    Arivne
    Truth In Television
    • During Prohibition in the U.S., illegal alcohol was often cut with methyl alcohol, a poison that can cause permanent blindness.
    • The British Royal Navy served "grog" (watered down rum) to its sailors.
  • March 14, 2010
    SilentHunter
    Further Truth In Television: Rationing during World War Two.
  • March 14, 2010
    dotchan
    More Truth In Television, and perhaps an inversion: a very minute portion of alcohol was always added to water in ancient societies to make it safe(r) to drink. (Even the Apostle Paul, otherwise rather famous for being an asthetic, recommends this in a letter to Timothy because the other had been having stomach problems.)
  • March 14, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    @dotchan

    Perhaps you meant "ascetic", not 'aesthetic'

    "Illegality incentivises product adulteration" would sum up all of the drug examples. Of course, illegal activity not being bound by contract law, there's absolutely no requirement to provide the goods or service being paid for
  • March 18, 2010
    tropesstealsleep
    In Real Life this was done with milk and even bread depressingly often. (Milk would be mixed with water, bread with chalk, plaster, grit and worse...) There's an incredible amount of legislation on this in older legal systems, often putting it on the same severity scale as theft and murder.
  • March 18, 2010
    Weaver
    @ Chabal: Actually, it was Scrape that involved pigeon droppings and is in fact so called specifically because it was made out of whatever could be scrapped together.
  • March 19, 2010
    Chabal2
    So it is.

    The Bible has this at the Miracle of Cana: After Jesus turns a few jars of water to wine, he orders them to be served, after which one of the guests tells the groom that he truly is a good man, serving his best wine at a point in the feast where most of the partygoers are too drunk to tell whether their wine has been watered or not.
  • March 19, 2010
    Evilest_Tim
    You really don't need to explain the "eniru" point.
  • March 19, 2010
    LeeM
    In the film version of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End the ghost of the late Rawlinson Bulldog Gums takes possesssion of his now stuffed body, and urinates through the floor of the upstairs corridor into Sir Henry's drink in the dining hall below. Sir Henry is horrified - the stuffed dog's bladder had been refilled with water. This watering-down is what prompts Henry to finally exorcise the ghost of his brother who put the dog up to it.
  • March 24, 2010
    GeneralGoose
    Unless someone has ideas for better descriptions or titles (preferably to better incorporate how this applies to drugs as well), I'd like to see this launched soon unless there are any objections. It is common in fiction and depressingly common in real life.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable