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A butt load of work

Image: English106
“I’d love to go out tonight, but I have butt load of homework to do!”
You might have heard this phrase many times and considered it to be scatological and a little rude, but the etymological origins of this phrase are quite innocent. A butt is a large cask used to store and transport beer/wine/ale …
A butt of beer is 108 Imperial gallons, which is a lot of beer. A big butt load to be precise (and that ain’t no lie). When some tells you that they have a butt load of work, they have a high volume of work.


Common vernacular is to use the term barrel to refer to any sealed (typically wooden) vessel in the characteristic shape but, strictly speaking, the correct word to use is cask. A barrel, just like a butt, is just the name of a particular size of cask. Here’s a graphic showing the relative sizes of a few casks.
And here is the data in tabular format. This is not supposed to be a complete list, it’s here just to show context of the different sizes of containers, their approximate relative sizes, and their colloquial names. (The more you delve into it, the more complicated it gets. For instance, from the mid 15th Century up until as late as 1803, in Britain, casks for ale differed in the number of gallons they held compared to casks for beer!)
NameLitresUS GallonsImperial GallonsPints
 Madeira Drum6501721431144
 Port Pipe6501721431144
 Barrique (Cognac)3007966528
 Barrique (Bordeaux)2255949392
 British Barrel1644336288
 American Standard Barrel2005344352
 Quarter Cask50131188
 Blood Tub4011972


A few facts about some of the names:
(If you really have an immense volume of work, rather than saying you have a 'butt load' of work, you can techincally say you have a 'tun of work' – being twice as much as a 'butt').

Wooden Casks

Casks are typically manufactured from white oak, and have been made since before Roman times. Traditionally constructed from staves bound by iron hoops, they bulge in the middle. There is a mathematic principle that describes the optimal shape for a cask, and the bulge in the middle has an additional feature in that it allows them to be easily rolled, and turned in place, by one person (even when full).
Cask are strong and can be stacked easily. White oak is used (compared to red oak, and other woods), and when quarter sawn and appropriately aged/seasoned, makes a water tight cask (other woods don't perform as well). Casks that will be used to mature spirits are charred and burned on the inside to caramelize the sugars/starches in the wood to impart flavours into the spirit.


Similar to casks, different sized bottles are used to store and distribute Champagne. You can read about the different sizes in this article.
Do you know the difference between a Magnum, Jereboam, and a Methuselah?