Words We're Watching: 'Borg'

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In early March 2023, just up the road from Merriam-Webster headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts, 28 ambulances were called to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to help seriously ill, and seriously drunk, students.

The culprit: borgs.

A borg is a gallon water jug that has had some portion of its water replaced with a clear alcohol, like vodka, with some kind of electrolyte-enhanced flavoring added (think of those little squeeze bottles of fruity flavors marketed as water enhancers), and sometimes caffeine too. The theory is that the water, electrolytes, and caffeine help the borg-consumer avoid a hangover. Borg recipes sometimes call for a fifth of alcohol, which is 1/5 of a gallon, and by a bartender’s standard, between 15 and 17 alcoholic drinks.

While water and electrolytes might help someone’s body process alcohol—we’re a dictionary, so will keep our assertion worded thusly—the amount of alcohol in a borg is generally enough to make someone very much and extremely drunk.

Media coverage of the incident focused on the borgs themselves and another culprit: TikTok.

Dozens of students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst were hospitalized over the weekend after participating in the dangerous "borg" drinking challenge that has gained popularity on TikTok, officials said. In total, 46 students were hospitalized, but all were eventually medically cleared and discharged back to campus or home with injuries deemed not life-threatening, Amherst town manager Paul Bockelman told CBS News.
— Simrin Singh, CBSNews.com, 7 Mar. 2023

After an annual St. Patrick Day's celebration at UMass Amherst sent 46 people to the hospital for alcohol intoxication, town and university officials noted the use of "borgs" as a major contributor. … Short for blackout rage gallon, it is the latest social media trend popular across college campuses. The drink is created by filling a plastic gallon jug with half water, half alcohol, a caffeinated flavor enhancer, and electrolytes, according to TikTok videos on the drink.
— Ashley Soebroto, The Boston Globe, 7 Mar. 2023

In a typical borg, the gallon container is half full of water, with a whopping fifth of alcohol (about 17 shots), and a liquid flavor enhancer like Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier. The person who creates the borg labels it with a fun name, and holds on to it throughout the party. The college drinking trend has gone viral on TikTok, where social media users claim that drinking from a borg can cut down on the chances of a hangover. That’s simply not true and it’s very troubling that some students believe that, according to experts.
— Rick Sobey, The Boston Herald, 7 Mar. 2023

As the Boston Globe quote explains, borg is said to be an acronym for “blackout rage gallon.” Whether the acronym is truly the source of the word, or was created after borg was coined, is at this point unclear as far as we lexicographers are concerned. (Most acronymic etymologies are, we must report, fiction.)

When researching a new term related to the drinking habits of college students, one is not in error to consult the rich and fraught site that is the user-created UrbanDictionary.com. Evidence of the jug use of borg there dates to 2019, though there is a 2018 definition submission for the word in a related use. The submission reads:

a drinking game consisting of blacking out. Grab a gallon jug of water and dump half of it out, then fill the rest with vodka, then put Mio in it. Shared with about 8 people. [Example] “Dude I played borg last night and got absolutely hammered.”

The term blackout juice, found in a 2009 Urban Dictionary submission, evokes something of the modern borg:

A great drink composed of a 30 pack [=a box of 30 cans of beer], bottle of vodka and 2 frozen instant juice bars all mixed together in a cooler.

(Note that the modifier great is not one we'd apply here.)

There is also a 2005 Urban Dictionary submission for the adjective borged:

to be extremely stoned [Example] “Let’s get borged tonight” “I’m so borged”

Other uses of borg, such as the Star Trek life-form, and an acronymic nickname for the home improvement retailer The Home Depot (aka Big Orange Retail Giant, appear to be completely unrelated.