The Origins of 14 Cocktail Names

A cocktail garnished with lime
A cocktail garnished with lime
iStock.com/Rimma_Bondarenko

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 because cocktails were 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

A bellini cocktail
iStock.com/robertomm

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

A mint julep
iStock.com/RickSause

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

A mojito with plenty of ice
iStock.com/kajakiki

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

A frozen daiquiri
iStock.com/dias46

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

Homemade classic margarita
iStock.com/Wiktory

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

Manhattan cocktail garnished with a cherry and lemon
iStock.com/Stockphoto24

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 Rob Roy on the rocks
iStock.com/JMLederer

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

An old fashioned cocktail with cherries
iStock.com/bhofack2

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 Tom Collins with lemon wedge
iStock/com/Stockphoto24

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. The Collins part is said to come from a 19th century headwaiter known as John Collins, who worked at Limmer's Hotel and Coffee House and is thought to be the inventor of the drink. The Tom part may also have been influenced by an 1874 hoax often perpetrated at bars.

10. Mai Tai

A Mai Tai cocktail by the pool
iStock.com/Nickolya

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

11. Piña Colada

A piña colada against a purple background
iStock.com/ivanmateev

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

12. Sidecar

A sidecar drink
iStock.com/TravisLincoln

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

Cold, refreshing Singapore Sling cocktail
iStock.com/bhofack2

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

A mimosa cocktail with garnish
iStock.com/Anzel

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.

A version of this list first ran in 2015.

10 Things You Can Lift Instead of Dumbbells at Home

This Corgi puppy is the cuddliest dumbbell we ever did see.
This Corgi puppy is the cuddliest dumbbell we ever did see.
Tatomm/iStock via Getty Images

Right now, the prospect of handling dumbbells that have been touched by any number of strangers in your neighborhood gym might not seem very appealing—that is, if your gym is still open. For those of you who don’t want to buy your own dumbbells (or simply can’t find a store that has them in stock), we’re here to help you make do with what you might already have at home.

A six-pack of 12-ounce cans of beer weighs about 5 pounds, which is perfect for novice lifters who love to crack open a cold one as a reward for working out. Other options for people who usually reach for 5-pound dumbbells include a full ream of printer paper, a bag of all-purpose flour, and a regular red brick.

Seasoned bench-pressers without an at-home gym set up in their garage might still find some useful equipment in there—a spare tire, for example, weighs about 25 pounds. And it’ll take you more than a little muscle to do a few reps with your treasured collection of hardcover Harry Potter books, which weighs 20 pounds. Speaking of books, the third edition of the Oxford American Dictionary comes in around 7 pounds, but you can always stack it with some other heavy volumes to hit your ideal lifting weight.

Pets can help you reach your exercise goals, too, if they have the right temperament. Your cat probably weighs around 10 pounds, and a grown male golden retriever is likely between 65 and 75 pounds. Are you wondering if this is a good excuse to adopt a pet? The answer is yes.

See our top 10 makeshift dumbbells below, and pick out a movie to watch while you lift here.

  1. A standard-sized brick // 4.2 pounds
  1. A six-pack of canned beer // 5 pounds
  1. A ream of printer paper // 5 pounds
  1. A bag of all-purpose flour // 5 pounds
  1. The Oxford American Dictionary, Third Edition // 7 pounds
  1. A gallon of milk // 8.6 pounds
  1. A cat // 10 pounds
  1. A bag of dry dog food // 15 pounds
  1. A hardcover box set of Harry Potter books // 20 pounds
  1. A new car tire // 25 pounds

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Pick Up a New Hobby With This Beer Brewing Kit

Brewferm's beer-making kit comes with all of the important ingredients you'll need to make a Belgian-inspired saison.
Brewferm's beer-making kit comes with all of the important ingredients you'll need to make a Belgian-inspired saison.
Brewferm/Amazon

Sure, you could turn to a craft brewery when you want to sample one-of-a-kind beers with unique flavors—or you could learn to make your own. With this $100 starter kit from Brewferm, you can brew and bottle up to 15 liters of premium Belgian beer in your own home.

The kit comes with clear, simple instructions for getting started, and it includes everything you need—save for water, sugar, and reusable bottles (although you can buy those from Brewferm for an additional $70). Brewferm’s starter kit comes with a Belgian saison beer mix—a pale farmhouse ale with a fruity flavor—and they also sell mixes for more exotic beers, like an imperial stout and a Belgian IPA. Each beer mix includes ingredients like hop extract, barley malt, and yeast, and every kit comes with a guide that takes you through the entire process, including how to keep the whole operation sanitary for the best brew possible.

Each type of beer takes about a minimum of two months to fully ferment and mature. It’s a lengthy process, but an impressive hobby—and a crowd-pleaser for any friends you want to entertain. Want to learn more about homebrewing? Check out this list of interesting facts you might not know.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

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