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August 2, 1976

Punch Drunk

JAMA. 1976;236(5):485. doi:10.1001/jama.1976.03270050041032

Browsing in Mencken's The American Language is more likely than not to be rewarding. For example, in the chapter on slang, Mencken lists terms that originated among prizefighters and their attendants.1 For one of the words, he cited a reference to The Journal wherein "punch drunk" achieved acceptance into medical terminology. So it was that Martland2 wrote, in part, as follows:

For some time fight fans and promoters have recognized a peculiar condition occurring among prize fighters which, in ring parlance, they speak of as "punch drunk." Fighters in whom the early symptoms are well recognized are said by the fans to be "cuckoo," "goofy," "cutting paper dolls," or "slug nutty"....

The early symptoms of punch drunk usually appear in the extremities. There may be only an occasional and very slight flopping of one foot or leg in walking, noticeable only at intervals; or a slight unsteadiness in