The family of “B. Y. O.” initialisms, of which “B. Y. O. B.”, for “Bring Your Own Beverage (or Booze or Bottle)” is the most familiar, may have been coined by a cartoonist for the Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, Frank M. Spangler, Sr.,[i] better known by his byline, “Spang.”
The earliest known examples of the expression appear in his “Inanimated Weekly” cartoon of December 26, 1915, six months after statewide prohibition went into effect in Alabama.[ii] It was the first holiday season in which it was problematic to find enough alcohol for all of the guests invited to a holiday party.
Under Alabama’s form of prohibition, it was illegal to sell or purchase alcoholic beverages, but it was not illegal to own or consume it. People could cross the state line to buy it where it was legal, or order it from out of state for delivery, and perhaps pick it up at the Express Office, as illustrated in one panel of the cartoon.
The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), December 26, 1915, page 5.
Another panel showed “Uncle Holliday Dissipation” (“Dissipation” is a fancy word that can mean “drinking to excess”), who looks an awful lot like Santa Claus, wishing people a “Merry Christmas! B. Y. O. L.”
The only other examples of “B. Y. O. L.” I have seen from before 1919 also come from Alabama, suggesting that the expression may have originated there, perhaps coined by Spang.
When the Montgomery Cotton Exchange planned its third annual spring picnic (its first under statewide prohibition), it was strictly a “B. Y. O. L.” affair.
Our picnic day is drawing near
In shady groves of Jackson's Lake,
When free will flow the old-time cheer
Except that, should we fail to take
Wise counsel of the mystic sign
Which greets you on the lower line,
Your fate it is not hard to tell,
Unless you heed - B. Y. O. L.
The roasted meats and savory stew
And other things that go along,
Such as of games and sports a few,
Not to forget the minstrel song,
Will brush away the dust of town;
They will be yours, all done up brown.
But don't forget your friends to tell
In whispers low, B. Y. O. L.
"A silent wink, a secret sigh,
Gives entrance to much pleasure.
Watch, friends, initiates align
In bringing on their treasure
Which lendeth cheer and addeth tone;
Thus, you bring too, some of your own,
As else, perhaps, you find it - 'fudge!'
That you forget - B. Y. O. L."
Gives entrance to much pleasure.
Watch, friends, initiates align
In bringing on their treasure
Which lendeth cheer and addeth tone;
Thus, you bring too, some of your own,
As else, perhaps, you find it - 'fudge!'
That you forget - B. Y. O. L."
Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), May 14, 1916, page 3.
And when the Rotary Club of Pensacola, Florida paid a visit to the Rotary Club of Mobile, Alabama in 1918, they expected it to be B. Y. O. L. (credit goes to Garson O’Toole, the Quote Investigator, for digging up this reference).
B. Y. O. L. has not been printed on the invitations to go to Mobile, but it is highly probable that some of the Pensacola Rotarians have some friends who are expecting to show them the way to go home.
Pensacola News Journal, June 13, 1918, page 5.
“B. Y. O. L.” would not go mainstream until after ratification of the 18th Amendment to the United States’ Constitution, on January 17, 1919, ushered in the era of national Prohibition.
Ashton Clemens has a new joke which he confessed is not original, but good. Do you know what the new “P.S.” will be on formal invitations, instead of “R.S.V.P.,” after July 1, he asks. His answer is “B.Y.O.L.,” which means, “bring your own liquor.”
Daily News (Des Moines, Iowa), June 15, 1919, pg. 3 (reference courtesy of Barry Popik, The Big Apple online etymological dictionary).
The “joke” was common practice in New York City by the end of the year.
Many New York invitations bear this corner inscription: B. Y. O. L. Bring your own liquor.
Princeton Daily Clarion (Princeton, Indiana), December 15, 1919, page 2.
Meanwhile, Chicago braced for New Year's Eve on a "B. Y. O. L. basis."
|Chicago Tribune, December 28, 1919, page 9.|
A restaurant in San Francisco slipped "B. Y. O. L." into its ad copy.
|San Francisco Examiner, January 15, 1920, page 6.|
And a few weeks later, the New York-based, syndicated columnist, Roy K. Moulton of the New York American, deciphered the cryptic initials for the masses in a widely circulated column.
“I see that a new form of abbreviation has taken the place of the old familiar R. S. V. P. on banquet invitations,” said a member of a prominent club.
“What’s that?” inquired a friend.
“It’s B. Y. O. L.,” he replied. “The other day I received from a well known country club an invitation to a dinner which bore the initials B. Y. O. L. I couldn’t dope out what the letters stood for until a member of the country club told me that they represented ‘bring your own liquor’.”
Topeka State Journal (Topeka, Kansas), January 31, 1920, page 12.
“B. Y. O. B.” was in occasional use from as early as July 1920. At the time, it was generally understood as meaning “Bring Your Own Booze,” as opposed to the more generic “Beverage” of today.
What Does B. Y. O. B. Mean?
On the bottom of the sheet announcing the coming meeting of the Minnesota State Bar association, off in an inconspicuous corner is the legend: 'P. S. - B. Y. O. B.'
Now what we want to know is whether that means 'Bring Your Own Books' or 'Bring Your Own Basket,' or 'Bring Your Own Boo-- we haven't the heart to say that, knowing the freeness with which the surreptitious flagon flows in the Saintly City. - Daily Virginian."
The Pioneer (Bemidji, Minnesota), July 30, 1920, page 6.
It is possible, and perhaps even likely, that “B. Y. O. L.” trend (and the like) originated in Alabama, perhaps coined by “Spang”, eventually finding its way to New York and across the entire country after national Prohibition created conditions similar to those that had existed under statewide prohibition in Alabama in 1915.
This simple, direct evolution is called into question, however, by an alternate “B. Y. O.” initialism first seen in wartime England in 1917, and later used in the United States after its entry into World War I, an initialism brought about by wartime food shortages and rationing, as opposed to prohibition of alcohol – “B. Y. O. S.”, for “Bring Your Own Sugar.”
B. Y. O. S.
On the invitations to the breaking-up party at a girls’ school in London last term, the mysterious letters “B. Y. O. S.” appeared.
They may become a familiar feature on invitation cards of all kinds, for the letters stand for “Bring your own sugar.”
If one has not enough for one’s family, it is a serious matter to have to provide it for perhaps five or six people who have been invited to tea.
So if you see the mysterious letters one day on an invitation card of your own, you will know what they mean!
The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), April 11, 1917, page 7.
The United States’ entry into World War I, and Herbert Hoover’s leadership of the United States Food Administration, soon brought similar concerns, shortages and rationing to the United States.
The way the latest invitations read that invite friends down for the week end:
You are asked to be present at a week-end party, given at the home of Mrs. Blink Blank, August 23, 24, and 25.
R. S. V. P. B. Y. O. S.
. . . The proposed guests can’t tell whether the printer has made a mistake or not intending to say “Boys.” So they worry some more whether to take Mary and Lucy along with them or not.
But it’s easy when one remembers that Mr. Hoover is working his best to keep the world safe for the Democrats by cutting down the sugar allowance. With just two pounds a person for the month, it is hard work eking out the measly two pounds in the effort to make it go around for several more guests.
Hutchinson News (Kansas), August 23, 1918, page 2.
Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 1919, page 9.
The alternate forms of the expression generated some confusion.
Little question for today: Does “B. Y. O. S.” mean “Bring your own sugar” or “Bring your own stuff”?
The Boston Globe, January 6, 1920, page 10.
It is possible, I suppose, that the “B. Y. O. L.” joke made its way from Alabama to England, where it was modified and adapted for wartime conditions there in 1917. It’s also possible that the “B. Y. O. L.” joke (and the like) was in widespread use before it appeared in print in Alabama in 1915, and that both “B. Y. O. L.” and “B. Y. O. S.” are alternate forms of the same, pre-existing joke. It’s also possible that different geniuses, in different places, at different times, developed the same joke for different reasons and under different circumstances.
But when the war ended and rationing passed into history, we were still left with the need for new social etiquette and protocol brought about by Prohibition, as illustrated in this brief quatrain penned by the American journalist/novelist/essayist/poet, Christopher Morley.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Hawaii), April 2, 1924, page 6.
Thoughts on Being Invited to Dinner
Of old, all invitations ended
With the well known R. S. V. P.;
But now our laws have been amended,
The hostess writes B. Y. O. B.
Christopher Morley, in Parson’s Pleasure.
In some instances, the expression was shortened to the less specific “B. Y. O.” for “Bring Your Own”.
While the theatres are hanging out the “S. R. O.” sign, the hostesses are hanging out the “B. Y. O.” sign. “BRING YOUR OWN.”
Vanity Fair, Volume 14, Number 2, April 1920, page 75.
Vanity Fair, Volume 14, Number 2, April 1920, page 56.
A particularly polite host might say, “Please,” tacking a “P.” onto the beginning.
The P. B. Y. O. Robbery
Like many a hostess of to-day, Mazie La Marche would have been left high and dry by the great wave of prohibition had she not instantly realized the possibilities of the “please bring your own” movement. Knowing that a generous gentleman guest will always bring more than he can possibly use, this clever little lady has been able to keep her cellarette stocked with the very best brands.
Vanity Fair, Volume 16, Number 2, April 1921, page 38.
The greater consumption of home-distilled moonshine, or “hootch,” during Prohibition generated another variant – “B. Y. O. H.,” “Bring Your Own Hootch.”
The letters R. S. V. P. are being omitted from dinner invitations in best society these days. Instead of the old request to “respond if you please,” dinner invitations of today bear the cabalistic letters B. Y. O. H. It may be explained that B. Y. O. H. stands for “bring your own hootch.”
Charlotte News (Charlotte, North Carolina), August 9, 1921, page 4.
A syndicated humor piece about a policeman out to make a drug bust at a real Hollywood orgy, imagined invitations with initials advertising even more dangerous substances – “B. Y. O. H. N.” – “bring your own hypodermic needles”.
Detective Nibbs has been rather despondent these last few days. “At all these Hollywood parties,” he complained, “there is plenty to drink, from soap to finger bowls, but they seem to run short of drugs. Aren’t there any hostesses around these parts that give their guests a little sniff of cocaine?”
“The trouble with you,” we told the great detective, is that you’re wasting your time at Hollywood parties. What you want to go in for is Hollywood orgies.”
In due time Hollywood’s new social favorite received a written invitation to an affair. It began at midnight and lasted till exhausted at dawn. In the lower left-hand corner was the cryptic inscription: B. Y. O. H. N.
“At last,” said Jabez Nibbs, “I am invited to an orgy. Do you see those magic letters? Well, B. Y. O. H. N. means ‘Bring your own hypodermic needle.’ I’ll attend to mine at once.”
The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro, Kentucky), March 13, 1927, page 6.
But as excited as Detective Nibbs had been to bust orgy-goers in the act of “narcotic jabbing,” he was also mistaken. It was actually a meeting of the Cecil B. De Mille chapter of the Christian Endeavorers, forced to hold their meetings overnight during the filming of the great director’s “King of Kings.”
“Well, that’s all right,’ demurred Mr. Nibbs, “but how about this B. Y. O. H. N. business on the invitation?”
“Oh, that,” replied the hostess, “means Bring Your Own Hamman Neggs. You see, we always have a basket lunch for breakfast.”
The playful interchange of letters and real (or imagined) confusion on the intended meaning of the last letter played a large role in the numerous jokes or anecdotes involving variations of the initials.
All party invitations now wind up with a new cipher. Used to be R. S. V. P., meaning rye, Scotch, vermouth, piper heidsick.
Now it’s B. Y. O. L. Bring your own liquor.
Pittsburgh Press, February 20, 1920, page 40.
A young benedict, who doesn’t seem to realize it. He confides that there is a party (stag) on for this night. It is to be a B. Y. O. L. party. We make a guess that it means Bring Your Own Lunch. But he whisperingly corrects us. The “L” stands for Liquor. I wonder if prohibition will ever be here.
Oswego Independent (Oswego, Kansas), March 31, 1922, page 3.
“B. Y. O. S.” you read at the lower left corner of an invitation card which invites you to a Mah Jongg party. . . . Last year you sometimes read “B. Y. O. L.,” but you knew that one. That was a good joke and everybody was on. . . .
You say to yourself, “B. Y. O. L.” last year meant “Bring our own ‘likker,’” so B. Y. O. S. must mean bring your own something else. After a few days it suddenly dawns on you. You are invited to a Mah Jongg party and the hostess tells you to bring your own set of tiles. . . .
Scarcely any hostess can provide enough sets for more than two or three tables of guests, so it is quite the custom to bring your own set to each party.
The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Oregon), December 24, 1922, page 25.
B. Y. O. humor crept into advertising.
Bring your own bathing suits to the beach.
Bring your own binoculars to the Dempsey-Tunney fight (Tunney won the ten-round bout in a unanimous decision).
You’ll need a pair of these glasses to see the great fight to advantage. Particularly, if you sit in a B. Y. O. B. (Bring your own binocular) seat, of which there are many.
Pittsburgh Daily Post, September 18, 1926, page 3.
But B. Y. O. wasn’t all fun and games. It was serious business. As silly as prohibition may seem today, it garnered enough support for passage and ratification as an amendment to the United States Constitution. It was the culmination of one of the largest, longest-running, most influential political movements of all time. By 1920, issues surrounding temperance, prohibition, regulation of alcohol, “high license” or “low license”, state or local option, the “Maine Law,” “blind pigs,” “blind tigers,” and speakeasies had dominated much of the political landscape for nearly a century, second only, perhaps, to issues related to abolition, slavery and reconstruction.
The new rules were widely flouted, leading to political ramifications for government and business leaders caught sidestepping the new laws. It was easy to get caught when the invitations included the initials, “B. Y. O.” And it was easy to deflect blame by claiming or feigning ignorance of the intended meaning of the specific initials at issue.
Invitations to a party of high-ranking military and government officials caused a minor ruckus in April 1924.
Those four cryptic letters, printed in small type on a dinner invitation, haave created a furore in army circles.
They have resulted in quiet preparations for some prohibition sleuths to “look in” on the annual dinner of the purchase, storage and traffic division of the general staff, to be held at the Hotel Astor, New York, Monday night.
The letters appeared on the invitations under the names of the dinner committee, which includes General W. H. Rose.
A Boston wool merchant noted the letters. He wrote to Secretary Weeks, asking if they meant “bring your own booze.” He demanded an investigation.
In response Mr. Weeks said he would be unable to attend the dinner.
General Rose was more frank. He wrote to the Boston wool merchant and said:
“I wish to advise you you correctly ascribed the traditional meaning to the letters B. Y. O. B.
He explained, while the dinner was to be officially dry, the letters were placed on the invitation to allow “individual members to follow their own consciences.”
The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pennsylvania), April 5, 1924, page 1.
The Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune (Chillicothe, Missouri), April 5, 1924, page 2.
Those in attendance swore no alcohol was involved.
With a quart of sparkling juice flanked by two quarts of mineral water at each table the dinner was said by those who attended to have been bone dry and a great success.
Major General James G. Harbord said he did not have to be told the mystic letters did not mean “blow your own bazoo”, while Gerard Swope, toastmaster, said the letters would not be necessary another year. But no one explained the exact meaning of the letters.
Palladium-Item (Richmond, Indiana), April 8, 1924.
Despite his admission before the party that the second “B.” stood for “Booze,” General Rose reportedly changed his tune on the night of the event. No reporters were allowed, but attendees could be heard singing, “The Stein Song,” so observers were still suspicious.
NEW YORK, April 8. – (INS) – Whether the refreshments, or merely the speeches were dry at last night’s banquet of the Purchase, Storage and Traffic Division of the former general staff of the United States Army at the Hotel Astor remained a mystery today.
While lusty voices sang “The Stein Song,” General William Rose, chairman of the dinner committee told newspapermen outside the door that the symbol “BYOB” printed on the invitations did not stand for “bring your own booze.”
Reporters were barred but were allowed a fleeting glimpse of the festive board.
General Pershing and Secretary of War Weeks were invited but did not attend.
The Indiana Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania), April 8, 1924, page 13.
Later, that same week, invitations for a reunion of Harvard grads caused a similar rumpus.
The invitations sent to “every Harvard Man” for the three-day gathering of the Associated Harvard Clubs of the World at Detroit, June 5, 6, and 7, give promise of raising somewhat of a disturbance among certain groups of alumni. . . . [P]rotests . . . have been sent . . . about the following paragraph in the invitation.
“FRIDAY, a momentous meeting, a ferocious feast and asl-o-o, stew-pid and stew-pendous show. O. B. Y. O!”
. . . Indications are that these invitations will produce more disturbing queries than did the invitations issued by the army officers in Washington, D. C., which bore the initials “B. Y. O. B.” – the initials which Secretary of War John W. Weeks said might mean, “Bring Your Own Buddy” (since it was a War Veterans’ dinner), and which another officer explained as possibly meaning, “Be Your Own Boss.”
Several Harvard men were asked if they’d received the invitations. They replied in the affirmative. They were then asked if they had noted the significant paragraph. They replied in the negative, and straightway cussed themselves for having tossed the invitations into the waste basket without giving them the careful scrutiny they deserved.
Boston Globe, April 7, 1924, page 1.
The Army furor inspired one newspaper wit to write a short play about the numerous possible meanings of “B. Y. O. B.” The piece includes the earliest, one-off examples of “B. Y. O. B.,” as “Bring Your Own Bottle” or “Bring Your Own Beverage.” “Bottle” would become the dominant meaning in the 1950s and 1960s, and “Beverage” would not become common until the late-1960s, and would become the dominant understanding after 1970.
. . .
Boss: “Gen. Rose told the newspapermen who tried to break into the dinner that the letters did not stand for “Bring Your Own Booze,” and so I am asking each of you fellows here to write your own theory as to what ‘B. Y. O. B.’ means, so that the country no longer will linger in doubt.”
And then, one by one, these solutions found their way to the boss’s desk. (Take your pick.)
Bring Your Own Beer.
Bring Your Own Bottle.
. . .
Bring Your Own Bread.
Bring Your Own Bed.
. . .
Bring Your Own Bottle-Opener.
. . .
Bring Your Own Bananas.
. . .
Bring Your Own Beverage.
. . .
Bring Your Own Blonde.
. . .
There’s probably nothing criminal in “B. Y. O. B.” because in the springtime it might mean, “Blow Your Own Beezer.” Or
“Be Your Own Bartender.”
(Curtain . .)
The Buffalo Enquirer, April 11, 1924, page 14.
Funny stuff (I guess), but it wasn’t so amusing to the British steamship, Orduna, seized by federal authorities, and later released on a $1,000,000 bond, for serving liquor inside the 12-mile limit. To be fair, the allegations also included charges of the ship’s involvement in bootlegging and narcotics smuggling, but it did signal that the Feds were serious about enforcing the prohibition against serving alcohol within the 12-mile limit.
“B. Y. O. L.” is going into the nomenclature of the big ocean liners along with S. O. S. That is to say, as a result of the recent seizure of the Royal Mail liner Orduna. British steamship companies are passing the unofficial tip to traveling Americans to “bring your own liquor” if they can’t wait until their boat passes the 12-mile limit.
Edmonton Journal (Alberta, Canada), March 15, 1924, page 1.
Everything Old Is New Again
Two decades later, Prohibition was long gone and the world was embroiled in a new World War. “B. Y. O. L.” and the like were no longer necessary for planning parties, but they were not forgotten. When “B. Y. O. S.” reappeared with the return of sugar rationing in 1942, it was generally said to be a variation of “B. Y. O. L.” from prohibition days, not a revival of a precisely the same practice from the earlier war.
B. Y. O. S.
Maybe in this initialed world with its U. S. O., it’s a. W. V. S. and it’s a. A. U. W., a fad that belongs to the era of the WPA, a new set of letters like B. Y. O. S., might not mean anything much to you.
But many of you who get invitations to teas, and even dinners, are likely to find those very initials next to your R. S. V. P. And if you hope to be a popular guest, or even a guest at all, you better heed those letters P. D. Q.
Because, with this rationing and so forth, you are being not only invited to the party, but you are also being invited to B-ring Y-our O-wn S-ugar, to the party.
It’s just as much a point of importance to a party in defense times as was B. Y. O. L. back in the days of prohibition.
The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware), February 11, 1942, page 23.
Macon Chronicle-Herald, July 3, 1942, page 3.
They had sugar rationing in Canada as well, and (surprisingly, perhaps – for Canadians) they weren’t very nice about it.
. . .
Edgar C. Lamoureaux . . . “Anyone who would hoard sugar, when the government has expressly requested Canadians to go easy, is selfish and unpatriotic. Shooting is too good for peole like that. We’re at war.”
. . .
James Ingham . . . “I say take ‘em out and shoot ‘em!”
. . .
A. Ernest Coutis. . . “Hoarders of sugar should be shot!
The Windsor Star (Windsor, Ontario), January 27, 1942, page 5.
The same wartime shortages that brought back “B. Y. O. S.” also engendered a new wave of “B. Y. O. L” parties.
A new Emily Postian (?) custom has started around town, I’m given to understand; it’s the engraved BYOL instead of RSVP; it really isn’t necessary to add RSVP because you can count on only your two best friends, they tell me when you use that signature. It means “Bring Your Own Liquor.”
Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, New Mexico), December 26, 1941, page 3.
BYOL (Bring Your Own Liquor) Invitations Very Much in Vogue for Parties in Many States
Host and hostess faced a new party problem for 1943 tonight, either bored guests or BYOL invitation – bring your own liquor. Six states have imposed some form of liquor rationing and others said something had to be done to insure every toper his tipple.
Dayton Herald (Dayton, Ohio), December 28, 1942, page 6.
Similar shortages brought about other variants.
Too many difficulties in the way of assembling food for a large gathering for old-fashioned dinner parties to be much in order . . . Wonder if the BYOL of prohibition days may become Bring Your Own coffee?
The Palm Beach Post (Palm Beach, Florida), November 29, 1942, page 7.
Wade Doughty, Wichita Beacon, says that in the air capital of Kansas, party invitations which used to say BYOL (bring your own liquor) now say BYORS (bring your own ration stamps) . . . .
The Morning Chronicle (Manhattan, Kansas), June 11, 1943, page 7.
Mattoon, Ill. – (AP) – This city of 15,000 yesterday became a BYOL town – bring your own lunch – for visitors as most restaurants closed, claiming they were foodless, pointless and helpless.
Transient war workers asked “when – and where – do we eat?” And an engineer said husky steel workers engaged in warplant construction “can’t do that kind of work on a lettuce sandwich and a coke; they need meat and potatoes, even for breakfast.”
Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), June 26, 1945, page 3.
Bring Your Own Bottle
Beginning in the early 1950s, “B. Y. O. B.” appears to have displaced “B. Y. O. L.” as the dominant form of the expression, this time with “B” for “bottle,” not “booze,” “beverage” would come later.
The Daily Times (Salisbury, Maryland) July 3, 1951, page 12.
In Florida, BYOB wasn’t strictly legal at unlicensed restaurants, but embarrassed legislators “caught with their bottles showing” rushed a new bill through the state senate.
Members of both the Senate and the House got caught with their bottles showing in an unexpected raid of state revenue agents on three Tallahassee steak houses.
Shortly after that embarrassing incident the Senate came up with its bill to permit restaurant patrons to “bring your own bottle” even if the establishment has no whiskey license.
The Alabama Journal (Montgomery, Alabama), May 19, 1955, pgae 9.
But as the corollary to the lesson I learned from Maria in the Sound of Music goes, “when the Lord opens one bar, somewhere he closes another.” Whereas embarrassed Florida senators tried to legalize BYOB for unlicensed restaurants, Maryland cracked down on them – “milk bars,” dens of iniquity where late-night customers brought their own booze and other vices.
Now the same people who wouldn’t know what a “milk bar’s” real business is might not know what B. Y. O. L. means. Those letters stand for “bring your own liquor.” And there you have it. “Milk bars” are not licensed to sell liquor. So they don’t sell it. But they do sell soft drinks, which incidentally can be mixed with the hard drinks. Their patrons are for the most part denizens of the night, and their busiest hours are between 2 and 6 A. M. But so far the police haven’t been able to do much about them.
The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), April 16, 1948, page 33.
And, although some people thought BYOB made it easier to plan an economical party, not everyone liked the kinds of parties BYOB (or BYOL) enabled.
I strongly resent the implication in a recent News story that the smart thing to do now when you throw a party is to tell the guests: “Bring your own liquor.” I did this for my annual big party this year, and what happened? The mob was out to drink the stuff they had paid for, acted as if they were in a tavern, had no respect for my home, and refused to leave until every drop was drunk and themselves likewise. Believe me, folks, this “BYOL” stuff is all wrong – or do I know the wrong kind of people?
New York Daily News, December 4, 1943,
The syndicated household advice columnist, Heloise, however, approved.
I am answering the woman who wrote about BYOB (bring your own bottle) parties. My hat is off to her. I approve! We could not afford to have so many parties if we didn’t have BYOB’s.
Dear Abby, on the other hand, disapproved.
[W]e have received invitations to cocktail parties, New Year’s parties, etc. with the initials, “B. Y. O. B.” printed on the invitation. This, we were told, means “bring your own bottle.” . . .
My wife and I have always felt that the host and hostess should provide ALL the refreshments, so consequently, we have refused all such invitations . . . .
We recently received an invitation with “B. Y. O. F.” (Bring your own food.) Abby, we aren’t college kids in a housing project. Are we wrong to feel as we do about this custom?
“Happy in Richmond”
Dear Happy: Not in my bood. Next iw will be “B. Y. O. W.” (Bring your own wife.)
Ogdensburg Journal, January 29, 1970, page 32.
Bring Your Own Beverage
“Bring Your Own Beverage,” without the abbreviation, appeared in advertisements for several Southern California restaurants and clubs, beginning in July, 1919, shortly after ratification of the 18th Amendment.
Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1919, page 16.
Santa Ana Register, July 31, 1919, page 3.
Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1919, page 7.
Curisously, this last one advertised the presence of four brands of beer, Rainier, Maier, East Side and Budweiser, although patrons had to furnish their own “Booze.” Los Angeles had recently passed a city ordinance permitting sales of “war beer” (2.75% or lower), and the federal government had not yet ruled on whether it would be permitted under the newly ratified Prohibition or not. “War beer” would be outlawed in Los Angeles by the end of the year, and before the “B. Y. O. L.” initials became widely known.
Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1919, page 15.
But despite the fact that “B. Y. O. L” and “B. Y. O. S.” were in current usage elsewhere, “B. Y. O. B.” never quite caught on.
The earliest example of B. Y. O. B., as “bring your own beverage (apart from the single, one-off example from the long list of possible meanings in 1924), I could find is from an application for membership in a private club in 1965.
B. Y. O. B., as “Bring Your Own Beverages,” received a big boost when Emily Post approved its used in her syndicated advice column in 1970.
DEAR MRS. POST: The staff in our office is planning to have an “office picnic”. It was my best friend’s idea, and she will arrange it an act as hostess, but she is not sure how to suggest who should bring what and how to issue the invitations. – ALICE
DEAR ALICE: Tell your friend to buy attractive, gay invitations and fill in the information as to hour, place, etc. At the bottom she should add “Please bring six ears of corn,” or “Salad for sixteen” or whatever a fair contribution from each guest might be. She can either ask everyone to chip in for a keg of beer or cases of soft drinks, or she can also put on the invitation “Bring your own beverage” or “BYOB.”
The Indianapolis News, September 3, 1970, page 20.
[i] For more information on Frank M. Spangler, Sr,, see https://mmfa.org/exhibitions/the-political-persuader-cartoons-by-frank-m-spangler-sr/
[ii] The Montgomery Times (Montgomery, Alabama), July 1, 1915, page 4 (“Alabama is Dry. The statewide prohibition of the sale of liquor . . . goes into effect today. . . . There are a large class of our fellow citizens who do not believe in prohibition of the sale of liquor; they do not believe that morals can be legislated into the people. And, in the face of this sentiment against the law, there is grave doubt of the ability of the law officers to enforce it.).