John Barleycorn


Definition of John Barleycorn

: alcoholic liquor personified

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Synonyms & Antonyms for John Barleycorn



  • nonintoxicant
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Did You Know?

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn! / What dangers thou canst make us scorn! Robert Burns wasn't the first to use "John Barleycorn" as a personification of liquor when he penned those lines in his poem Tam O'Shanter in the late 1700s. The term had been part of English vernacular for more than 150 years before Burns's heyday, but the poet played a key role in popularizing it by carrying it into literature. "Barleycorn" undoubtedly became part of that euphemism for alcohol because barleycorns (that is, grains of barley) are a key ingredient in malt liquor. And "John" has long been used as a generic name or personifier in English.

Examples of John Barleycorn in a Sentence

she blamed John Barleycorn for the breakdown of their marriage

First Known Use of John Barleycorn

circa 1625, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of John Barleycorn was circa 1625

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Cite this Entry

“John Barleycorn.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Jul. 2020.

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