Ammon Shea provided verifiable evidence from 1903; Nicholas Molyneux provided evidence of a related word from 1844.
The adjective legless is used as a slang term to describe someone who is extremely drunk, particularly someone who can no longer stand or walk. The earliest example we can find of this usage is from a 1975 song by Andy Fairweather-Low, ‘Wide Eyed and Legless’:
But the rhythm of the glass
Is stronger than the rhythm of night
Wide eyed and legless
I’ve gone and done it again
1975 Andy Fairweather-Low Wide Eyed and Legless (song)
We suspect that this is not the first instance of someone getting ‘legless’, and indeed the phrase ‘legless drunk’, with legless modifying drunk, can be traced back to the 1920s:
She poured liquor into the bums, beggars, ragtags, and bobtails that hung around the saloons till they were legless drunk.
1926 Jack Black You Can’t Win, p. 180
Can you help us by finding earlier examples of ‘legless’ or ‘legless drunk’?
Posted by OED_Editor on 18 December 2014 18.13