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The Origins of 14 Cocktail Names

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The word cocktail is a bit of an etymological puzzle: Originally only a nickname for an animal that rears up when irritated, by the late 1700s it had become another word for a horse with a “cocked” or shortened tail. But how or why it then made the leap to alcoholic mixed drinks in the early 1800s is a mystery.

One theory claims it’s to do with the drinks making you feel energized and sprightly, like an energetic horse, while another suggests it’s to do with cocktails being popular at the races. Alternatively, the two meanings could be entirely unrelated—one equally plausible explanation is that cocktail might in fact be an anglicized version of the French coquetier, meaning “egg-cup,” which was perhaps once used to serve the libations.

The origins of the names of individual cocktails are often just as tricky to pin down, with rival explanations and rivaling claims of invention often competing against each other. Here are the stories—and theories—behind 14 of your favorite tipples.

1. BELLINI

The pale orange-red color of a classic Bellini cocktail reportedly reminded its inventor—Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Venice’s famous Harry’s Bar—of a similar color often used in paintings by the Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini.

2. MINT JULEP

Although nowadays it refers almost exclusively to a cocktail of bourbon whiskey (or, more controversially, brandy) flavored with sugar and mint, the word julep was originally borrowed into English from French as far back as the 1400s to refer to a sweet-tasting or sweetened drink. Before then, it has its earliest origins in the Arabic word for rose-water, julab.

3. MOJITO

Although debate rages over the exact origin of the mojito, according to the Oxford English Dictionary it probably takes its name from mojo, the Spanish name of a Cuban sauce or marinade made with citrus fruit—a mojito is literally a "little mojo." 

4. DAIQUIRI

Staying in Cuba, a classic daiquiri cocktail—basically a mojito without the mint—is named after the village of Daiquirí on the far southeast coast of the island. Legend has it that the drink was invented by local American mining engineers around the time of the Spanish-American War when they ran out of gin and had to use the local rum instead.

5. MARGARITA

Marjorie King, a former Broadway dancer, the singer Peggy (i.e. Margaret) Lee, and Margarita Henkel, the daughter of a former German ambassador to Mexico are all touted as the possible namesake of the margarita cocktail. But in fact the cocktail might not be named in honor of anyone at all—margarita is the Spanish word for “daisy,” and so one theory claims the drink was simply a variation of an earlier Texan cocktail called the “tequila daisy.”

6. MANHATTAN

Although accounts of the event are debatable, legend has it that the Manhattan cocktail was specially invented for a banquet hosted by Lady Randolf (mother of Winston) Churchill at the trendy Manhattan Club in New York in the late 1800s. The name “Manhattan” was already in use long before then, however, as the name of a different drink from the modern Manhattan cocktail. And at the time this supposed party took place, Lady Randolph was very pregnant with Winston, and living in England. So the real origin is probably lost to time. 

7. ROB ROY

A Manhattan made with Scotch rather than Canadian whisky is a Rob Roy. It was originally invented at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1894 to celebrate the Broadway premiere of an operetta loosely based on the life of the Scottish folk hero Rob Roy.

8. OLD FASHIONED

When it became popular in the late 1800s to introduce liqueurs into cocktail recipes, the older, more basic recipes that omitted them—and in particular this classic mix of whiskey and bitters—became known as “old fashioned” cocktails.

9. TOM COLLINS

A John Collins is a mixture of London dry gin, lemon, sugar, and soda. Replace the London gin with Old Tom gin, and you have a Tom Collins.

10. MAI TAI

Invented at a bar in California in the 1940s, maitai means “good” or “nice” in Tahitian …

11. PIÑA COLADA

… while piña colada means “strained pineapple” in Spanish, a reference to the drink’s fruity base.

12. SIDECAR

Although the origins of the sidecar cocktail are hazy, one story claims that it was invented in Paris just after World War I by an American Army captain who could often be seen being driven around the city in a motorcycle sidecar.

13. SINGAPORE SLING

Sling is a general name for any sweetened and flavored drink made from a spirit base. The Singapore sling was invented in the early 1900s at the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore by an acclaimed barman named Ngiam Tong Boon.

14. MIMOSA

The mimosa takes its name from the mimosa plant, Acacia dealbata, which produces bright orange-yellow flowers the same color as mixed champagne and orange juice.

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 119th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."


Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."


Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."


By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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