In Important Questions: Where Does the Word ‘Cocktail’ Come From?


While there has been some debate over the origins of the word “cocktailian,” an even more pressing etymological dispute is at hand: where does the word “cocktail” come from? Some say Antoine Peychaud, a Creole pharmacist and the creator of Peychaud’s bitters, coined the term back in the mid-19th century. But others say the word might not have had its origins in the glass at all.

According to the blog Grammarphobia, the original usage of “cocktail” in reference to a mixed drink dates an 1802 issue of a weekly Amherst, N.H. newspaper: “Drank a glass of cocktail — excellent for the head… Call’d at the Doct’s… drank another glass of cocktail.”

The website World Wide Words lists several other possibilities, including an innkeeper during the American Revolution, who allegedly used a cock’s tail feathers as swizzle sticks in her drinks. Another theory from the same era involves the Marquis de Lafayette’s recipe for mixed wine called coquetel.

Grammarphobia posits that the word might come from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the term “cock-tailed” was first used in reference to a coach horse or hunter with “the tail docked, so that the short stump left sticks up like a cock’s tail,” and later for any “horse of racing stamp and qualities, but decidedly not thorough-bred, from a known stain in his parentage.” It may have been the first, but certainly wouldn’t be the last time cocktails were associated with ill breeding — or breeding of any kind, for that matter.


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