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COCK TAIL: Two Words Combined for a Whole Lot of Meaning

Cocktail, we all say it without thinking twice. Cocktail mixers, cocktail shakers, cocktail lounges, cocktail drinks, but...COCK TAIL. Has anyone actually ever thought about the two words that make up this phrase used in our daily life (well, at least in our daily life)?


Colonial era bar

When we started thinking about these two words, our minds spun with theories, and they did not include fancy lounges and drinks on fire.


Someone gets cocked and everyone starts looking like they have a tail? People cocked their pistol after drinking too much? And some other references that probably are not appropriate to bring to life on our screen! Fortunately, or depending on how you look at it, unfortunately, it looks like our theories are wrong. Surprisingly it seems there is a lot of speculation over the origination of the word cocktail.


Over one-hundred years before the period that brought Bridgerton to life, more than two hundred years before the period that brought Peaky Blinders to life, and well over 400 years before binge-watching Netflix became a piece of our everyday vocabulary, there was the Colonial Period. It is perceived that this time period is when the word cocktail first made an appearance. Throughout this 400 plus year history, drinking has remained in society's forefront. From Benjamin Franklin drinking what many consider today's modern-day craft cocktail to George Washington's reputation for racking up sizable tabs, it doesn't seem much has changed. It makes us wonder, did they order a COCKTAIL or something else? After all, alcohol was a means of staying hydrated back then, since drinking water could give you the delightfully named disease black vomit, amongst others.

So back to the meaning of the word cocktail.


Three theories have popularized over the years, including:

  1. The Egg-Cup. Is the word cocktail simply a mispronunciation? A New Orleans apothecary and inventor of Peychaud bitters, Antoine Amedee Peychaud, served brandy with his bitters in egg cups in the late 18th century. Egg-Cup in French is pronounced coquetier, or in English is cocktay. There it is folks; the word cocktail could simple from a mispronunciation for egg-cup!

  2. Cock Tailings. Its not what you think! When tavern owners combined the dregs (tailings) of nearly empty barrels, they called them cock tailings. They then sold these cock tailing at a discounted price. Oh, and the spigot (tap) of a barrel was sometimes referred to as a cock. So to clarify, today's fancy cocktails may have originated from the bottom of barrels being combined to sell at cheap prices. Nowadays, we would refer to that as the ass end of the beer.

  3. Cock your tail up! Put this one away as a useless knowledge conversation starter. For practical purposes, horses used to have their tails docked, making it look like a rooster tail or "cock tail." Around the 19th century thoroughbred horses started to make their way into society and did not have docked tails. If a regular horse was entered into a race, its "cock tail" was noted. Now for the good stuff. Horses with cocked tails were perky and friskier than those without, so "cock your tail up" became a saying similar to "eye-opening!." Now we can all assume cocktails are supposed to make us frisky!

Colonial-era cocktails are not that different from drinks we would consume today. From Stone Fences to Rattle Skull we would be willing to indulge! Have we come a long way, or is the word cocktail still true to its origin of mispronunciations, weird concoctions, and friskiness? It makes one wonder how far society really moves on from its roots, especially when discussing something that has stood the test of time, like alcohol.