Watering Down


(permanent link) added: 2010-03-21 04:57:46 sponsor: GeneralGoose (last reply: 2010-03-24 10:52:45)

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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 II 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.

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