Photography by entry in Oxford Dictionary of English
The Oxford English Dictionary affirms the original use of 'cocktail' was to describe a horse with a tail like a cock's - that is to say, a docked tail, which stuck up, rather than hung down. That came to mean a racehorse that was mixed - not thoroughbred. Hence, it's asserted that this sense of 'cocktail' came to mean a mixed or 'adulterated' drink.
The word 'cocktail' is first known to have entered the world of print in 1798 through the pages of London's Morning Post and Gazetteer in a satirical comment on the then-Prime Minister, William Pitt. This is followed in 1803 when "cocktail" appeared in a US agricultural newspaper called The Farmer's Cabinet.
Despite these two earlier mentions, the cocktail's birthday is celebrated on 13th May, thanks to a reader who wrote to another early paper, The Balance and Columbian Repository, enquiring what was meant by the word in an article. On the 13th May 1806 the editor replied with the first known definition, "Cock-tail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters--it is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, in as much as it renders the heart flout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else." [sic]
Nobody knows where the word comes from although it originally referred to only one type of mixed drink, it is now a catchall term for mixed drinks in general. The following theories about its origins are ranked in order of implausibility.
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