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What is the origin of the Italian expression 'a tutta birra' meaning 'at full speed'? Is it really related to beer?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

No, it probably isn't. I've found that "a tutta birra" can be derived from a wrong translation of the French expression à toute bride, which should be translated as "a tutta briglia". "Briglia" means bridle, so the original expression is used to indicate that someone goes/something is done at full speed, like a galloping horse.

At the moment, I've found very few references about this topic, like this dictionary or this blog entry. Nothing academical or proved, I'm sorry.

User @Federico found out an interesting fact. Comparing the frequency of the expressions "a tutta birra" and "a tutta briglia" in Italian books, using Google Ngram Viewer, shows that our beloved "a tutta birra" starts to appear around the '30s of last century.

graph showing the frequency of the two expressions in Italian literature.

Could it be related to the increasing use of cars which took place in those years? Here, we can just make hypothesis, but the use of this expression has been kept increasing for years, definitively surpassing the original "a tutta briglia" in the 70’s (here you can play with Ngram).

Are there other interpretations?

User @randomatlabuser enlightened me about another possible interpretation of the expression "a tutta birra". In fact, it seems that in the past horses were given beer as an energy drink, especially before going through hard parts of the travel. Also, modern diets for race horses include brewer's yeast, which is supposed to enhance the performance during the race (here it's briefly explained).

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Google Ngram seems to support your idea: in particular see how the "birra" starts to be used/found after 1930 –  Federico Jul 23 at 16:04
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I always thought that a tutta birra was the same as a tutto gas, i.e., at full throttle, where the birra stood for the British petrol or the American gas. –  Walter Tross Jul 23 at 20:48
    
They have the same meaning, in fact. –  uomoinverde Jul 23 at 20:50
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Beer is synonym of energy, read here. Apparently they even use to give beer to horses to improve performance. –  randomatlabuser Jul 23 at 21:06
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@randomatlabuser I've added it to my answer. –  uomoinverde Jul 24 at 7:56

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