The Vocabularist: Where did the word ‘cocktail’ come from?


‘When the chancellor said the UK faced a “cocktail” of economic risks he was using a word once linked to the great Tory Prime Minister William Pitt the younger.

Cock, meaning a male chicken, has a long history in English but not in other Germanic languages. So has coq in French, but not in other Romance ones. Tail is a fairly standard old English word – “taegl” in Anglo-Saxon.

Do cocks crow “cock-a-doodle-doo”? At least it is close enough to explain the word. Chaunticleer, the rooster who is the hero of Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s tale, “cride anon ‘kok, kok'” at one point.

Perhaps French and English coined it separately, then borrowed its uses from each other – English from French, as in “coq-au-vin” and French from English, as in “cocktail”.’

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