It's Cocktail Hour!

This week's video is part 2 of my look at the word "cocktail":

If you haven't seen part 1 yet, you can watch that here.

In this new video I look at what I think is the most likely etymology for cocktail. The OED puts the the drink sense and the horse sense of the word cocktail together, and I'm inclined to agree. On the surface the horse connection seems one of the less likely, but linguistically it seems to be on the most solid ground, since there's clear early evidence of various colloquial uses of the word "cocktail". Also widely reported is the eggcup story connected with the invention of the Sazerac, and while a New Orleans origin is tempting, the dates don't work out--the apothecary Peychaud's invention seems to date to the 1830s (see the website of the Sazerac company, which now distributes the bitters), which is over thirty years after the earliest instances of the word being used, as we saw in the last video. However, it does gesture towards the important contribution of 19th century America in the development and popularization of the cocktail. Though I'm inclined to accept the British birth of both the drink and the word, the cocktail as we know it now "grew up" in the US, as I've touched on with references to early cocktail recipe books and Prohibition, along with other more tangential examples of Americana such as Nast and Hemingway.

Another early cocktail recipe book, this one by William "Cocktail" Boothby.

Another early cocktail recipe book, this one by William "Cocktail" Boothby.

One of the interesting American connections that was split up over the two episodes, is that both the Democratic and Republican parties are name-dropped in the videos, but here's a close up image of those two references, just because it amuses me:

cocktail closeup 6.png

In my discussion of the other sense of the word cocktail, "a person assuming the position of a gentleman, but deficient in thorough gentlemanly breeding", I use an illustration from Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey. The character John Thorpe in it is a rather nice example of this. He constantly pretends to be rather more than he is, driving a tricked out but actually inferior carriage, much like a young man today might have a car which is made out to look fancier than it actually is.


On the subject of pictures, I couldn't find a picture of Alec Waugh, so I had to go with a picture of his more famous brother Evelyn Waugh--hope that wasn't too confusing. I also couldn't find a picture that I was sure I could use of a cocktail shaker in the shape of a teapot, but there are many such pictures on the internet. Here's one:

You can read more about the development of the cocktail shaker here. And this is the George Bishop book I mentioned at the beginning of the video. I can strongly recommend having a look at Jerry Thomas's How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant's Companion, which you can download in a variety of formats. There are some really interesting early cocktails in there, if you want to explore mixing up some unusual drinks.

I've already settled on the next cocktail name to feature in a video--keep your eye on the cocktail word playlist for future videos. So get mixing, and if you have any questions or suggestions for other cocktail names to look into, send them my way. Cheers!


This week's video marks the beginning of a new semi-regular series of videos on the etymology of cocktail names. This first episode is part one of a look at the word "cocktail" itself, as well as at the history of the development of the cocktail:

In two weeks I'll post part two, which will cover some more proposed etymologies for the word, and will also look a bit at the cocktail as a social institution. Later on I'll continue to post from time to time videos that will look at the etymology of specific cocktail names. I've already picked the next one, but I'm happy to take suggestions.

There's no more consensus on the origin of the word "cocktail" than there is on the origin of the drink itself, and much has been written on both scores. Beyond the usual linguistic sources, I've looked at a number of sources, many of which you can see listed here. Many of the proposed origins of the word that I discuss in this video (and in part 2) are, of course, are false etymologies, or are based on proposed folk etymologies, but I've tried to gather together as many as I could find, no matter how likely they are, because they are both fun and instructive in how they build up an interesting historical web of connections. Cocktail part 1 is in many ways a lesson in European foreign policy, exploration, and colonization, with the British East India Company, the Napoleonic Wars, Colonial America, and the Conquistadors in the historical backgrounds here. The etymology is the jumping off point that can open up into many interesting historical byways. The varied histories of the drink and the word, interesting in and of themselves, are also emblematic of the complex interplay of history, and this historical relationship with something entertaining like cocktails will make those histories all the more memorable. Think about that next time you raise a glass!

A few additional things to call attention to: Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller, who I mentioned backdated the earliest reference of the word "cocktail" can be found on the web here, and Jared has an excellent article about the history of the drink here. You can have a look at James Fenimore Cooper's The Spy here. I briefly mention La Malinche, aka Dona Marina, Cortez's translator and mistress. Apparently she was quite a polygot, able to guide the Conquistador through many varied languages of Mexico, such as Nahuatl, Chontal Mayan language, and various other dialects--an interesting figure in her own right who only gets a passing mention here.

William "Cocktail" Boothby, important early bartender and cocktail book writer

William "Cocktail" Boothby, important early bartender and cocktail book writer

So tune in again in two weeks for the exciting conclusion to "Cocktail", and leave any suggestions for any cocktail names you'd like me to cover in the comments. Cheers!