A look at the (possibly) vulgar origin of the word ‘cocktail’

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(NEXSTAR) – You’ll never look at a cocktail the same way again.

The origin of the word “cocktail” is often the subject of debate, but a few of the most prominent theories involve the rear-end of a horse — and the things the things that handlers would do to the rear ends of those horses.

The first theory, supported in part by a definition of the word “cocktail” provided by the Oxford English Dictionary, posits that the term was borrowed from an old nickname for a non-thoroughbred horses. Such horses would sometimes be designated by having their tailed trimmed, or docked, thus giving the animal a tail that pointed straight up, like that of a cock’s. These “cock-tailed” horses were also generally “characterized by a lack of gentility or good breeding,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The word “cocktail” then became slang for a drink made with liquor, but also any combination of sugars, water or bitters. In other words, the alcoholic beverage was not considered pure, much like a cock-tailed horse — at least according to one possibly etymology discussed in “Studies in the History of the English Language V,” published by De Gruyter Mouton in 2010.

Another theory, explained in detail by cocktail expert David Wondrich, similarly concerns cock-tailed horses, albeit in a much more “gloriously distasteful” way, according to the historian and author.

As Wondrich puts forth in the second edition of his book “Imbibe!” — and also in a 2016 article published in Saveur — the word “cocktail” is linked to the old practice of “feaguing” or “gingering” a horse, which allegedly involved putting a piece of peeled ginger “up a horse’s fundament, to make him lively and carry his tail well,” according to a definition Wondrich found in a 1785 “Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.”

Wondrich further claimed to have found evidence that “gingering” is in fact linked to the term “cocktail” after finding a 1790 newspaper which referenced a English clergyman who made people “cock their tails” by putting ginger and hot pepper into their alcoholic beverages.

“It comes from that… Something to cock your tail up, like an eye-opener,” said Wondrich in a 2015 interview with Grub Street. “I’m almost positive that’s where it’s from.”

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