Nobody can say with absolute certainty exactly when the word alien entered the English language, but we know that it was sometime after 1842. In that year, about 25 miles from Birmingham, in a village with a name that has not been recorded in history because nobody thought it was worth recording, a publican, Hurley Sudsmeir, was facing a financial problem. Many of his customers (or, rather, as you’ll see in the next few words, former customers) had begun to buy their beer in a nearby market for consumption in their homes rather than in Hurley’s pub. Their number was growing rapidly, meaning that his sales were declining precipitously.
Many people told Hurley that the reason his customers were leaving him was that they were sickened by the grossly filthy and unhygienic state that his pub was always in and by the vermin that were constantly swarming it. Hurley thought the people who told him this were crazy because he was convinced that filth and vermin gave his pub the sort of character that customers sought out in pubs. He was certain that the only reason for the decline in his business was his former customers just enjoyed drinking in the comfort of their own homes. It was them, he thought, not him.
Hurley was a consummate marketer. At least, he thought he was, but that was only because he thought that “consummate” meant “to consume with one’s mates,” which it very well might mean by the time I get through with it. His idea of marketing was to think up schemes to sell more beer while downing a few pints from his own pub with his mates. He didn’t do that often because he didn’t have many mates and the ones he had loathed spending time with him even if he did provide free beer. But never mind that. It had nothing to do with the derivation of the word alien.
In trying to come up with a plan to turn around his business, Hurley found that most people drank their beer from plain old water glasses when they drank at home, not traditional beer mugs and steins. He thought they would prefer to drink out of mugs and steins, but they weren’t then available in any store in town. The answer was simple: Hurley would start selling his former customers mugs and steins that they could use at home.
However, Hurley didn’t want to stop there. He also wanted to sell his customers beer, in particular stout ale, even if they didn’t want to consume it in his pub. The problem was that his contract with the beer companies allowed him to only buy only draft beer from them. He couldn’t buy beer from them in any sort of container that people would want to buy from him to take home.
That’s when Hurley came up with his truly brilliant idea. Rather than just selling mugs and steins, before he sold them, he filled the glassware with ale and covered it with a watertight lid that he fashioned out of sealing wax. He also offered to refill and reseal at a reduced price any mugs or steins that customers brought back to his pub (assuming, of course, that they had bought the mugs or steins from him in the first place).
As a marketer, Hurley was ahead of his time in at least a couple of respects. First, he felt the need to slap a brand on everything he sold. And second, he liked to create brand names by ramming together two perfectly good English words. He intended to call his pre-filled mugs and steins AleIn, but he suffered from a form of dyslexia and, as a result, he ended up branding his product as AliEn.
AliEn didn’t last long. He sold a few, but, for the most part, people were still reluctant to enter his disgusting pub even if it was only to run in, grab and pay for an AliEn, and run out. If that wasn’t bad enough, Hurley lost what little money he had betting on the horses. He might not lost as much money as he did, but he bet only on horses to win chess matches because bookies gave him such stratospheric odds that he figured that even just one win out of a thousand would make him rich.
Within nine months of launching AliEn, Hurley—by then utterly destitute and despondent—committed suicide by diving into a large keg of beer, sitting on the bottom, and throwing open his mouth.
Hurley wasn’t much loved in his village, but his neighbours nevertheless kept his memory alive by keeping AliEn in their lingo. They dropped the capital letters and turned it into an ordinary word meaning “with ale in it.” So, for example, an alien glass would be a glass with ale in it.
Soon people visiting from nearby villages, towns and cities started using the new word, alien, as well. It’s usage continued to spread to the point where pretty well anywhere in the English world you can use alien to mean filled with ale. So, raise an alien stein and salute Hurley Sudsmeir for his contribution to the English language.