Saturday, March 18, 2000

Multiple hues

THE true origin of the word cocktail is unknown, but a large number of folklore etymologies have grown around it. As many as 56 fables have gathered around the origin of the word. Let’s look at some interesting ones. The most popular story depends upon the earlier meaning of cocktail, i.e., horse with a cocked tail, ready for a race. Whatever kind of tail it was, it seems to have been one that served as a good name for a drink that perked you up or made you feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as it were. New Orleans claims that a bartender in one of her bars devised the drink and served it in a type of cup called coquetier, which evolved into today’s cocktail.

Another story says that an Aztec noble sent a drink made by him from the cactus plant to the Emperor through his daughter Xochitl. The emperor tried it, gulped it down, and married the maker’s daughter. He named the drink Octel, after the lady. This was a few generations before the dawn of the USA. When the American army under General Scott invaded Mexico, they tasted the drink, brought it back to America, and renamed it cocktail. Then again, once in England a potent mixture devised of stale beer or ale, blended with gin, herbs, bread and flour was said to keep fighting cocks in shape. It could also be drunk, minus the flour, by human beings and was called cockbread ale or cockale from which the transition to cocktail can be understood.

  The word could also be a corruption of French coquetel a, an iced drink of distilled liquor mixed with flavouring ingredients, popular in the wine district of Gironde, France, during the French Revolution. The French name means cock’s tail, the multi-coloured feathers of which may have named the drink made of multiple hues.

One last colourful tale about this tail is about a tavern-owner in the old Hudson valley of New York. This man cherished above all else his daughter Peggy and his fighting cock Lightning. Peggy had a secret formula for a special drink which she guarded with her life. Peggy fell in love and when her young man was getting ready to face her father, she mixed her special drink to give him courage. Just then, a feather from Lightning’s tail fell into the glass. Seeing this, Peggy used it as a swizzle-stick and said, "A cocktail! Lightning has named the drink!"


During Vedic times, Somras was a favourite with man and the gods too. The Aryans would grind the leaves of the Som plant and obtain its intoxicating juice. The Gods were also supposed to drink a juice from the rays of the Moon hence this drink became synonymous with the Som juice. This led to the use of the Sanskrit word Som for the Moon and consequently the Hindi Somvaar for the day associated with the Moon.

— Deepti