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In the present day, the word "Cocktail" is a catch-all term for all mixed alcoholic drinks. However, at one point in time, the word Cocktail referred to just one specific type of mixed alcoholic drink.


First Recorded Use of the Word "Cock-tail"

according to David Herpin

Witts recreations: selected from the finest fancies of moderne muses by george herbert in 1640

"drink! how lofty spirited, he disdains a book, how faithfully he is to---- how cocktail proud he dose himself advanced"

The earliest known printed use of the word "cocktail" appears in London's "Morning Post and Gazetteer", March 20, 1798, p [3], in a satirical list of drinks consumed by patrons of the Axe and Gate tavern on the corner of Downing Street and King Street in London, as detailed in Spirituous Journey: A History of Drink, Book Two:

"Mr. Pitt, two petit vers of "L'huile de Venus" Ditto, one of "perfeit amour" Ditto, cock-tail (vulgarly called ginger)"

First Recorded Use of the Word "Cocktail" in the United States

The earliest known printed use of the word "cocktail" in the United States was from "The Farmer's Cabinet", April 28, 1803, p [2]:

"11. Drank a glass of cocktail—excellent for the head; all sauntered away to see the girls: Miss ---- not up: Went to the Squire’s---girls just done breakfast. Mem. Girls not so bright after dancing. Talked of the weather—then of the walking—then of the weather again—was very witty—Peter not quite so brilliant. Went to the Col’s found the girls very lively and sociable—drank a glass of wine—talk’d about Indians—call’d Miss ----- a Squaw—all laugh’d—damn’d good one—talked about the walking—insisted that the more muddy it was, the better walking—all look’d queer: nothing else to say—jogg’d off. Call’d at the Doct’s: found Burnham—he looked very wise—drank another glass of cocktail."

N.B. Doctor’s a famous lounge.

According to David Herpin the use of the word in reference to the drink appears in Select Tales and Fables with Prudential Maxims and Other Little Lessons of Morality in Prose and Verse ...: For the Use of Both Sexes .. by Benjamin Cole in 1790.

Earliest Known Definition of the word "Cock-tail"

In the May 13, 1806 edition of the Balance and Columbian Repository, a publication in Hudson, New York , where the paper provided the following answer to a readers query as to what a cocktail was:

"Cocktail is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters--it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a Democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else."

According to David Herpin

The Atlantic magazine: Volume 1 - Page 346 by Robert Charles Sands in 1824

"Every mouth was open with offers of rum-sling, brandy- cocktail, gin-twist, or any other peace-offering which was likely to appease the offended dignitary."

Historical References

"Three Years in Canada: An Account of the Actual State of the Country in 1826-7-8", By John Mactaggart, 1829

"Nevertheless, let what the people of the States of America call cocktail be fully analyzed - let us pry into the wonderful mysteries of Bitters."

Transatlantic Sketches, By James Edward Alexander, 1833

"For the receipt-book let the following be copied:- First, Cock-tail is composed of water, with the addition of rum, gin, or brandy, as one chooses- a third of the spirit to two-thirds of the water; add bitters and enrich with sugar and nutmeg: in sling, the bitters are omitted."

"American Notes for General Circulation", By Charles Dickens, 1842

"Cocktail - spirit, bitters, sugar, etc."

New Orleans as I Found it, By Edward Henry Durell, 1844

"Now the difference between a brandy-cocktail and a brandy-toddy is this: a brandy-toddy is made by adding together a little water, a little sugar, and a great deal of brandy-mix well and drink. A brandy-cocktail is composed of the same ingredients, with the addition of a shade of Stoughton's bitters; so that the bitters draw the line of demarcation."

"Lawrie Todd: Or, the Settlers in the Woods", By John Galt, 1849

"Cocktail, a, a dram of bitters."

"Hesperos: Or, Travels in the West", By Matilda Charlotte (Jesse) Fraser Houstoun, 1850

"Their "custom of an afternoon," was to prepare and drink a favourite compound, which went by the name of "brandy-cocktail." The avowed object was to stimulate their appetites for dinner, (though for this there appeared no absolute necessity,) and as it seemed to have the desired effect, I may as well add, for the benefit of other weak and delicate individuals, that brandy-cocktail is composed of equal quantities of "Stoughton bitters" and Cognac."

"Notes and Queries", by William John Thomas, et al, 1850

"Now it would appear that the medical profession is to have the invention of that ques-tionable American institution, the ' cocktail,' fathered upon it..."

"Dictionary of Americanisms", By John Russell Bartlett, 1860

"Cocktail - A stimulating beverage, made of brandy or gin, mixed with sugar and a very little water."

Possible Explainations for the work Cock-tail

  • coup d'oeil: A quick survey; a glance.
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