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Cocktail Etymology

September 1, 2007

Etymology

 

Piña Colada with pieces of coconut

 

Piña Colada with pieces of coconut

There are several plausible theories as to the origin of the term “cocktail”. Among them are:

  • Colonial taverns kept their spirits (rum, brandy, whiskey, gin, applejack) in casks, and as the liquid in the casks lowered, the spirits would tend to lose both flavor and potency, so the tavern keeper would have an additional cask into which the tailings from the low casks could be combined and sold at a reduced price, the patrons requesting the “cock tailings” or the tailings from the stop cock of the cask. This was H.L. Mencken’s belief.
  • Cocktails were originally a morning beverage, and the cocktail was the name given as metaphor for the rooster (cocktail) heralding morning light of day. This was first posited in 2004 by Ted Haigh in “Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails”. and can be distinguished from the theory “take two snips of the hair of the dog that bit you“, which refers to consuming a small bit of alcohol the morning after a “binge drinking night” to curb the effects of the symptoms of the hangover, in the belief that these symptoms are the result of a form of withdrawal. A cock’s tail has many varied feathers in exciting colours as a cocktail has varied exciting alcoholic drinks mixed together. Further the cloaca in the tail of cock is the exit hole for many impure substances.
  • Some say that it was customary to put a feather, presumably from a cock‘s tail, in the drink to serve both as decoration and to signal to teetotalers that the drink contained alcohol.
  • Another etymology is that the term is derived from coquetier, a French egg-cup which was used to serve the beverage in New Orleans in the early 19th century.[1]
  • The beverage was named for a mixed breed horse, known as a “cock-tail” as the beverage, like the horse, was neither strictly spirit nor wine — it was a mixed breed.
  • The word could also be a distortion of Latin [aqua] decocta, meaning “distilled water”.
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