The question of how much women should drink — if at all — has been a complex one, highlighted by a famous Dorothy Parker verse: “I wish I could drink like a lady. / I can take one or two at the most. / Three and I’m under the table. / Four and I’m under the host.”

According to a new study, the very notion of "drinking like a lady" remains at the heart of a difference in how we talk about men and women who are drunk. That's according to a study called "Gender Differences in Natural Language Factors of Subjective Intoxication in College Students: An Experimental Vignette Study," just published in the scientific journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The study, which is only available online for now (it is being published in print in December), asked 145 undergraduates to evaluate scenarios of people drinking. The researchers concluded:

"The current study showed that natural language intoxication terms are applied to others similarly to oneself. Specifically, results supported previous research by showing that moderate intoxication terms such as 'tipsy' were applied to female vignette characters more than male characters, even when female characters were heavily intoxicated, and that female participants applied these terms more than male participants. In contrast, heavy intoxication terms such as 'wasted' were applied to male vignette characters more than female characters, and male participants applied these terms more than female participants."

In other words, we underestimate how drunk women are while overestimating how drunk men are. That's likely because of the very social pressures Parker's witty poem identifies: it remains generally unseemly for women to show extreme inebriation, while how much one can drink remains an all-too-common measure of masculinity.

This has obvious real-world consequences, especially if we don't take seriously the signs that a woman is dangerously intoxicated — not just tipsy. As the abstract for the study notes, "intoxication language can inform gender-specific prevention and intervention efforts targeting problematic alcohol use among college students."

Also, though the study does not say this, it's time we stopped using outworn words like "wasted." To find a better expression for your drinking habits, consulted Paul Dickson's Intoxerated, which contains close to 3,000 ways to express how trashed you are.

Photo via Associated Press.