Date: Sun, 7 Dec 1997 17:13:23 -0600


Subject: Re: Cocktail

Perhaps this ground has already been covered, but ...

I believe Dillard has suggested that cocktail is a borrowing from West

African varieties of English. I know that 'cocktail' in Sierra Leone Krio

is the word for scorpion, so presumably Dillard suggests the usage is

analogous to stinger.

Chris Corcoran

At 12:18 AM 12/3/97 -0500, Barry Popik wrote:


Peter Tamony's papers on "cocktail" probably have everything there is to

say on this. A turf poem containing "cocktail" was posted here a few days


This is from the Philadelphia Inquirer, 25 October 1904, "Everybody's

Column," pg. 8, col. 4:

WHENCE THE WORD "COCKTAIL" (J. C. P.)--"Dear Sir: Can you tell me the

derivation of the name .cocktail,' that seductive but insidious drink, much

used by the American 'bon vivant'? Is it a U. S. idiomatic word, or is it of

an earlier period?

When such an authority as Murray's New English Dictionary, which may

well claim to be the largest, if not the highest, of its kind (half a dozen

ponderous volumes, and not complete at that) describes "cocktail" as "chiefly

U. S. (a slang name of which the real origin appears to be lost)" it must be

presumptuous on the part of a poor "U. S. newspaper man" to open his mouth on

the subject.

In all due fear and trembling, therefore, we would fain suggest that in

certain parts of Murray's own country, notably in Yorkshire generally and

Sheffield particularly, beer that is full of life, fresh and foaming, is

dialectically known as "cocktail beer;" the transfer, in popular,

rough-and-ready parlance, of the name "cocktail" from a fizzy, foaming,

life-full beer to a life-imparting, "cocking-up" rouser such as the "U. S.

cocktail" is credited to be, appears to us a very short step; and we humbly

beg the privilege of recording the name for your benefit, friend J. C. P.

As to the origin of the English dialectical "cocktail beer," it seems

likely to be, like a score of other similar forms, the outsome of the popular

blending of two notions--"a tail like that of a cock," and "a tail that cocks


This is from the New York Herald, 16 October 1921, section 7, cols. 4-5,

pg. 6:

Bits of Horse Lore Out of the Usual

By Martha McCullouch Williams


WHAT is a cocktail? (...) Harking back to cocktail, it strikes me as

possible that the cant name comes remotely from the Arab practice of bending

the tail bone of a newly dropped foal over the forefinger till its upper

vertebra is dislocated. This insures, after healing, a high carriage of the

tail--something more barbarously secured by the farrier's practice of


Thus the cocktail came to be held an indication of spirit, eke of

blood--horses showing foot and gameness might well be entitled to it.

As to how the name came to fit also a drink here is a theory, not so far

fetched as some, with a few facts behind it. When Washington fought the

redcoats for possession of New York town he and his staff rested at a house

of call in what is now The Bronx, and were there waited on by a buxom

landlady, a widow who had a fine hand at mixing things spirituous. One day

she tried a new brew, sipped, then swallowed, then passed the potion as a

stirrup gup to her guests, already in saddle, saying:

"Drink hearty, gentlemen. It's good! I say so. 'Twill make ye each

feel as sassy as a cocktail."