When confronting a family member who had become inebriated, my Grandmother could be heard stating that the offender was “drunk as a skunk.” This was puzzling to my childhood self, who surely knew that wild animals did not partake of cocktails prior to their evening meal. In addition, the North American skunk (Mephitis mephitis, Latin for stench) takes its name from an Algonquian Indian word that translates as “urinating fox,” which also has nothing in common with the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Of course, the characteristic ability of this member of the weasel family is to douse its enemies in a foul-smelling musk, leaving an odor strong enough to discourage even the bravest opponent. As a result, “to skunk” someone is to unequivocally defeat them.
Over time, an inebriated individual has been referred to as “stinking drunk” or “stinko,” and since no creature alive stinks more than a skunk, “drunk as a skunk” becomes both poetic and descriptive. Similar, albeit non-melodious, terms for "extremely drunk" have included, over the years, drunk as a fly, a log, a dog, a loon, a poet, a billy goat, a broom, a bat, a badger, a boiled owl, and several dozen others too racy to list here. Although comparative terms for drunkenness have been popular throughout the history of English, "drunk as a skunk" seems to be a fairly recent (20th century) addition to the compendium.
But, while they don’t drink alcohol per se, some wild animals eat fermented fruits and berries and become intoxicated. In fact, a motorist near Goslar, Germany called the police to remove a dead badger from the middle of the road. The badger, who was only intoxicated, had been consuming over-ripe cherries which fermented in his stomach causing both diarrhea and a hangover. Apparently, said badger had staggered into the road where he collapsed and refused to move, even when the local police attempted to scare him off the highway. It took a while to chase the inebriated mammal off the road into a nearby meadow using a broom handle, where the poor tipsy creature immediately fell asleep again.
And then there is the story from Camp Pendleton, San Diego, California where a First Class Petty Officer reportedly exited a bar and tried to start a vehicle that had been equipped with an ignition interlock. This is a device used to prevent an intoxicated individual from driving their vehicle, by connecting an alcohol detector to the ignition switch. It tests the alcohol level using the driver’s breath, and will not allow the vehicle to start if the preset limit is exceeded. In a story taking the Internet by storm, the Navy officer was too intoxicated to successfully start the vehicle. Therefore, he needed a proxy to breathe into the alcohol tester and allow him start the car.
He reportedly entered a nearby park in search of assistance, captured an adult raccoon that was rummaging in a trash bin and returned to the car. He then somehow squeezed the raccoon in order to make it breathe into the alcohol analyzer so that he could achieve ignition. But the story doesn’t end with starting the vehicle: the raccoon apparently became unconscious from all the squeezing, and instead of simply placing the animal on the ground, this trained military officer discarded the raccoon on the floorboard of the car. Since the raccoon was not dead, just temporarily out of oxygen, it revived and began to attack the driver. The officer lost control of the car, which went through a residential fence and ended up in a backyard swimming pool. The suspect allegedly sustained multiple bites and scratches on his hands, face, arms and stomach.
The fictional enlisted first class petty officer was charged with abuse of an animal, and drunken or reckless driving. While the story regarding the drunk badger is certainly true, using a raccoon to start an ignition controlled vehicle is most definitely a figment of the Internet’s imagination. Officials at the US Secretary of the Navy’s office rushed to quickly debunk the rumor, which was actually created by the military humor group “Just the Tip of the Spear.” This group is made up of veterans and active duty members, and their logo was watermarked behind the false viral incident report.
There are a number of codes for alcohol abuse, but the codes for the mythical Petty Officer’s interesting night include:
- F10.129: Alcohol abuse with intoxication, unspecified
- W55.51XA: Bitten by raccoon, initial encounter
- W55.52XA: Struck by raccoon, initial encounter
- W55.59XA: Other contact with raccoon, initial encounter
- W16.012A: Fall into swimming pool striking water surface causing other injury, initial encounter
- V48.0XXA: Car driver injured in noncollision transport accident in nontraffic accident, initial encounter
- Y92.810 Car as the place of occurrence of the external cause
Thankfully, no raccoons or sailors were harmed during the writing of this hoax. However, the real question here may be how an intoxicated human could catch a sober raccoon?