Winston Churchill Hiccups And Jordan Gets A Weird Border

There’s a special category in life called “Things We Brag About Doing While Drunk.” No, we’re not including driving. No matter what your uncle, or friend, or that guy who just rear-ended you insists, nobody’s a better driver while intoxicated. Better at lying to yourself, sure. Better at not noticing the many minor to incredibly dangerous mistakes you’re making, absolutely. But no, none of us turn into Ryan Gosling behind the wheel after a few Chardonnays.

That said, there are plenty far more innocuous activities you can attempt — and live to brag about — while tipsy. Maybe you did your own impeccable bridesmaid’s makeup after a few morning-of Champagnes in the bridal suite. Maybe you knocked back a pitcher and got three strikes in a row with the old underhanded, one mph bowling toss. Or maybe, like Winston Churchill, you had yourself a liquid lunch and proceeded to draw the boundary lines for a really awesome looking territory in the Middle East. And then you were all like, “Hey guys, guess who’s wasted and just made a major geopolitical change? Also, dudes, I can burp the alphabet!”

We’re assuming that’s what Churchill said, though the exact story, quite possibly like Churchill’s memory of the day, is a bit hazy. Here’s the rough outline: it was 1921 and Churchill, then Britain’s Colonial Secretary, was tasked with helping to demarcate British territories within the evolving borderlines of the post-WWI Middle East. Legend has it, Churchill, who was famously fond of his drink, had a bit of a liquid lunch that day, not always the best move when trying to navigate foreign, nomadic, and local governmental interests in a highly politically sensitive territory. But hey, we’ve all been there.

Cairo Conference
Churchill, front and center, at the 1921 Cairo Conference

After drawing the boundary lines of what was then known as the Trans-Jordan territory, Churchill is supposed to have bragged that he basically created a country “with one stroke of a pen, one Sunday afternoon in Cairo.” He did not include that he was also blitz drunk, though stories seem to suggest he was intoxicated, if not full-on inebriated. (The fact that Churchill’s daughter referred to his morning cocktail of watered-down whiskey as “Papa’s Cup” makes it a whole lot easier to believe the man could’ve had more than a little to drink by lunchtime.)

If the story is true, it’s all pretty impressive, ranking right up there with someone adding “the inalienable right to waffles” to the Bill of Rights after too much brandy. The only problem with Churchill’s boozy border: on the eastern coast, it bends abruptly — and dramatically — inward, creating a random triangle shape that doesn’t conform to any geological or political reason. (If you look at the map, we’re talking about the left-pointing arrow shape between 30.5 degrees and 32 degrees latitude.)

The name of the shape: Winston’s Hiccup (alternately, Churchill’s Sneeze), the idea being that the intoxicated future Prime Minister must have hiccuped while drawing the borderlines, dragging his pen inward. And the obvious correction, especially if you’re drunk, is to look around to see if anyone noticed, and drag your pen right back out. And then when people ask, pretend like you totally meant to do that. (The Kingdom of Jordan looks basically the same today.)

Clearly there are far more important things that have affected — and continue to affect — the borderlines in that region of the world. This little gaffe on Churchill’s part is just a bit of a silly story, something possibly true, definitely ridiculous, and also indicative of the kind of arbitrary factors that have an impact on something as fundamental as border creation, especially when it’s the work of a foreign power. The leader of which may or may not be drunk.