The word is of Middle English origin, and meant a person who drank heavily. Beer or ale was customarily served in ceramic pots, so a tosspot was a person who copiously 'tossed back' such pots of beer. The word "tosspots" appears in relation to drunkenness in the song which closes Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The morality play Like Will to Like, by Shakespeare's contemporary Ulpian Fulwell, contains a character named Tom Tosspot, who remarks that
- "If any poore man have in a whole week earned a grote,
- He shal spend it in one houre in tossing the pot".
In the Pace Egging Song which accompanies the play the verse for "Old Tosspot" is;
And the last that comes in is Old Tosspot you see.
He's a valiant old man, in every degree.
He's a valiant old man and he wears a pig tail.
And all his delight is in drinking mulled ale!
As with most traditional folk songs the exact words vary.
In the chapter "Step Eight" of the Alcoholics Anonymous book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions by Bill Wilson, the phrase "... tosspot call[ing] a kettle black" causes some confusion for readers who are not familiar with the adage. In the original editions of the book it stated "that is like the pot calling the kettle black." The old saying means a person who is as flawed as the person he or she is criticizing has no right to complain about the other's flaws. The pot, after all, is as blackened by the flames as the kettle. Wilson's little pun places the tosspot, or the drunk, in the position of the flawed individual who should not criticize others.This might have perhaps come from old times when pots and pans were generally black and kettles were generally metallic and reflective. Therefore the pot sees its black reflection in the kettle and thinks that the kettle is black.
- "Tosspot". Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, LLC. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
- "Tosspot". Oxford dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
- Shakespeare, William, Twelfth Night, 5.1.
- Fulwell, Ulpian, Like Will to Like.
- Cowper, H.S. (24 February 2002). "Hawkshead Easter Pace-Egg Play - 1898". Retrieved 14 November 2014.
- Potter, Pip (2010). "Folk Play Information". Wiltshire Community History. Wilshire Council. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
- "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions", p78, LG236CElectronic .PDF version, September 2005+ ISBN 0-916856-01-1,Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.