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What Does "down the Hatch" Mean?

Jim B.
Updated May 23, 2024
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"Down the hatch" is an English idiom that is used to encourage someone to drink the entire contents of his or her beverage of choice. In this manner it serves as a kind of toast to be used in polite company when drinking alcohol. This phrase can also be used whenever anyone is eating or drinking something right before the person opens his mouth to take in food or drink. It appears that "down the hatch" originated from the practice of ships carrying freight below deck in the hatch area.

An idiom is a phrase or word that develops a meaning that doesn't necessarily match its literal definition. Its meaning may also vary from what the meaning was when it was first originated. Instead, it gains its new meaning from the way it is used among the people of a particular culture. Idioms provide color and impact to speakers who don't want to sound mundane. Many idioms have to do with food and drink, and one of these idioms is the phrase "down the hatch."

The most common usage of this idiomatic expression occurs whenever two or more people are preparing to drink alcohol at the same time. At occasions like these, it is common for one member of the group to say a few words right before everyone drinks at the same time. This is known as a toast, and "down the hatch" is one of the most popular general toasts available. It implies that those drinking should finish all of the drink before them in one lift of the glass or container.

Although it is often used as a toast, the meaning of this expression is versatile enough to include any occasions when food or drink is involved. Essentially, the "hatch" could mean the person's mouth, throat, or stomach, since all of those areas are destinations for food and drink in the human body. As an example of how this phrase is used, consider the sentence, "Don't be afraid of the size of that steak; just throw it down the hatch."

In days when ships were a more popular method of transport for people and freight, this phrase literally referred to the part of the ship where cargo was stored for the voyage. It is likely that this caused people to think of eating and drinking since the ship was figuratively eating the cargo. Sailors were also known to drink and give rowdy toasts, so it's likely that "down the hatch" originated in that setting.

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Jim B.
By Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own successful blog. His passion led to a popular book series, which has gained the attention of fans worldwide. With a background in journalism, Beviglia brings his love for storytelling to his writing career where he engages readers with his unique insights.
Discussion Comments
By JackWhack — On Jul 25, 2012

@giddion – It is unfortunate that social drinking causes alcohol abuse for many people. My uncle and his buddies used to have “down the hatch” parties, where they would play drinking games that resulted in everyone getting wasted.

He finally got away from this group of friends and sobered up. He actually had to go through rehab, because it had become an addiction. He got a good job and got married, and things seemed to be going well.

However, when he went to his college reunion, he got back in with the same group. They had a massive “down the hatch” party, and he fell off the wagon. He managed to recover again, but he knew that he had to avoid these parties forever after that.

By giddion — On Jul 25, 2012

I always hated it when my friends would toast and say, “Down the hatch,” because I knew that I was expected to guzzle my alcohol. I've never been good at holding my liquor, and on more than one occasion, this has resulted in vomiting.

I think that the use and popularity of this term may be one reason that so many college students abuse alcohol. They feel peer pressure to the extreme, because they are so far away from home and family. Of course, they are going to do whatever everyone else is doing, because feeling like they belong is essential to them.

Now that I'm older, I don't give in to peer pressure. If a group of my friends says, “Down the hatch,” now, I just take a small sip. There is no reason for me to make myself sick just to fit in any longer.

By wavy58 — On Jul 24, 2012

I've never done much social drinking, so I've never heard this expression used in the way it normally is. However, I have heard the idiom, “Batten down the hatches.”

I know that this expression means to secure yourself from whatever turmoil is about to occur. It's a figure of speech, since it doesn't normally refer to an actual storm. Back in the day, it meant to secure the ship from the oncoming storm, but today, it just means prepare yourself.

My friend owns a house on the beach, and whenever a strong storm is approaching, she boards up the windows. She refers to this as battening down the hatches before evacuating for a hurricane.

My other friend was about to have to give some very bad news to a coworker, and she mentally battened down her hatches before speaking to her. It's all about being ready for rough things.

Jim B.
Jim B.
Freelance writer - Jim Beviglia has made a name for himself by writing for national publications and creating his own...
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