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cocktail, n. and adj.

Etymology: lit. ‘a tail like that of a cock’, or ‘a tail that cocks up’; the latter is the prevailing notion.
 A. n.

 a. A cocktailed horse (cf. cock-tailed adj. 1).The fact that hunters and stage-coach horses, the tails of which were generally shortened in this way, were not as a rule thorough-breds seems to have been the origin of the modern turf application.


 b. ‘Any horse of racing stamp and qualities, but decidedly not thorough-bred, from a known stain in his parentage’ ( Dict. Rural Sports 1870, §926).

1808   Ellis Let. 23 Sept. in Lockhart Scott xvii   It is certainly painful to see a race horse in a hackney chaise, but..the wretched cock tail on whom the same task is usually imposed must, etc.
1842   Thackeray Fitz-Boodle's Confessions in Fraser's Mag. June 707   I can't afford a thorough-bred, and hate a cocktail.
1856   C. J. Lever Martins of Cro' Martin 221   ‘She's a well-bred one, that's clear.’ ‘Nearly full-bred; the least bit of cocktail in the world.’
1875   Catal. Sale Sir G. Cholmley's Stud (Tattersall) 1   The half-bred Stock is well enough bred to win Hunters' races and Steeplechases..being of the best Cocktail strains.

1808—1875(Hide quotations)


 c. In extended use: a person assuming the position of a gentleman, but deficient in thorough gentlemanly breeding.

1854   Thackeray Newcomes I. xxx. 294   Such a selfish, insolent, coxcomb as that, such a cocktail.
1887   Academy 11 June 409/2   His cocktails who blunder into liaisons with barmaids.

1854—1887(Hide quotations)


 2. (More fully cocktail beetle): A brachelytrous beetle which ‘cocks up’ the posterior part of the body when irritated; the Devil's Coach-horse.

1880   W. H. Patterson Gloss. Words Antrim & Down   Coffin-cutter, Ocypus olens, the cock-tail, an insect larger than an earwig, of a black colour. Called also the Devil's Coachman.
1883   J. G. Wood in Good Words Dec. 762/2   The Rove, or Cocktail Beetles found it out nearly as soon.

1880—1883(Hide quotations)

 3. [A slang name, of which the real origin appears to be lost.]

 a. A drink, consisting of spirit mixed with a small quantity of bitters, some sugar, etc. orig. U.S.

1803   Farmer's Cabinet 28 Apr. 2/3   Drank a glass of cocktail—excellent for the head... Call'd at the Doct's...drank another glass of cocktail.
1806   Balance (Hudson, N.Y.) 13 May 146   Cock tail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.
1809   W. Irving Hist. N.Y. (1861) 241   They lay claim to be the first inventors of those recondite beverages, cock-tail, stone-fence, and sherry-cobbler.
1837   J. E. Alexander Narr. Voy. Observ. W. Afr. I. ix. 223   He invited us to take ‘gin sling’, or ‘cock-tail’, at the side-table.
1839   F. Marryat Diary in Amer. III. 288   He frequents the bar, calls for gin cocktails, chews tobacco, and talks politics.
1843   Dickens Martin Chuzzlewit (1844) xvi. 202   He could..drink more rum-toddy, mint-julep, gin-sling, and cocktail, than any private gentleman of his acquaintance.
1882   J. Hawthorne Fortune's Fool i. xxvii   I would make no more of burglariously entering your premises..than I would of swallowing a whisky cocktail.
1931   M. de la Roche Finch's Fortune vi. 103   He..sipped cocktails in the lounge.
1948   New Yorker 6 Nov. 64/2   Cocktails are now so numerous that no bartender..can remember how to make all of them.
1968   New Society 22 Aug. 266/1   Cocktails, in ‘We're going out to cocktails’, is non-U.

1803—1968(Hide quotations)


 b. Cf. sense B. 3.

1857   T. Hughes Tom Brown's School Days i. vi. 142   ‘Bill,..the half-hour hasn't struck.’ ‘Here, Bill, drink some cocktail.’

1857—1857(Hide quotations)

1951   N. Mitford Blessing i. viii. 91   If one lunches every day and goes to, say, three cocktails, as well as dining out, one can go to forty houses in a week.
1958   ‘A. Bridge’ Portuguese Escape ii. 20   I must go to a cocktail at the Belgian Embassy.

1951—1958(Hide quotations)


 4. A preparation of food, usually served as an appetiser at the beginning of a meal; frequently with the main ingredient prefixed, as fruit cocktail, lobster cocktail, prawn cocktail.

1928   Sat. Evening Post 12 May 107/1   Mr. Montgomery had taken a morsel of fruit cocktail.
c1938   Fortnum & Mason Catal. 53/1   Oyster Cocktail—per bot. 1/9.
1959   N. Mailer Advts. for Myself (1961) iii. 231   Taking off to greet new arrivals whose crabmeat cocktail she nibbled on.
1960   M. Patten Cookery in Colour no. 23   The correct way of serving these cocktails, though, is to use glasses, when the lettuce should be shredded very finely and put at the bottom of the glasses.
1960   M. Patten Cookery in Colour no. 25   Cocktail sauce for Prawn or Shrimp Cocktail.
1964   Listener 24 Sept. 469/3   Twentieth-century delicacies such as lobster cocktail and coq au vin.
1968   ‘M. Torrie’ Your Secret Friend iii. 28   What would you think to a nice prawn cocktail, sir?

1928—1968(Hide quotations)


 a. A mixture of chemical substances, esp. one which is dangerous. Hence fig.: any combination of ingredients, factors, or circumstances.

1971   Daily Tel. 16 Apr. 3   A clerk..died after lying unconscious for a month as a result of drinking a ‘cocktail’ of drugs which included cannabis.
1978   National Westm. Bank Q. Rev. 20   The Bank usually lends in several currencies and repayments are due in the currencies disbursed. But more recently it has introduced single currency loans, in addition to its cocktails of currencies.
1981   P. Carey Bliss v. 230   There was no joy in their triumphs, only anger, revenge, nose-thumbing, name-calling, and..Harry..lent to this unpleasant cocktail a dominant flavour of fear.
1989   New Scientist 3 June 39/1   Scientists describe a typical gas from a landfill site as a saturated cocktail of gases at 35°.

1971—1989(Hide quotations)


 b. With modifying word, as atomic (also lytic, etc.) cocktail : a lethal concoction, or one which is humorously alleged to be so.

1940   Times 27 Jan. 6/2   The tanks often get stuck on the road, as the petrol mixture used—the so-called Molotoff cocktail—seems to be unsuitable for these temperatures.
1941   S. J. Baker Pop. Dict. Austral. Slang 24   Domain cocktail, a lethal concoction of petrol and pepper which reputedly once had a vogue among deadbeat drinkers in the Sydney Domain.
1945   Life 27 Aug. 32/3 (in photograph)    Atomic cocktail... The new era was met head on by a bartender in Columbus.
1949   Nebraska State Jrnl. 7 Apr. 1/4   A..girl drank her second ‘atomic cocktail’ Wednesday hoping to cure a rare glandular ailment... [She] drank a glass of radioactive phosphorus.
1954   Time 14 June 80/3   From its combined efforts came the ‘lytic cocktail’. In this, chlorpromazine is combined with Phenergan and Dolosal to block the automatic nervous system.

1940—1954(Hide quotations)

 B. adj.

 1. That cocks the tail. cocktail beetle: see A. 2.

1600   S. Rowlands Letting of Humors Blood Epigr. xxxii. 38   How cock-taile proude he doth his head aduance How rare his spurres do ring the moris-daunce.
1866   Athenæum No. 2025. 212/3   Vestiges of cocktail fucoids, coralloids.

1600—1866(Hide quotations)


 2. Of horses: Not thorough-bred: see A. 1; fig. not in good form, low-bred.

1860   R. E. Egerton-Warburton Hunting Songs (ed. 2) 119   A hundred good horses, both cocktail and blood.
1875 [see sense A. 1b].
1888   Lane-Fox in Pall Mall Gaz. 27 Aug. 9/1   To breed tame fowls and then blow them away from the end of their guns is snobbish and cocktail.

1860—1888(Hide quotations)


 3. Fresh and foaming; said of beer.

1888   S. O. Addy Gloss. Words Sheffield 48   Cock-tail, fresh and foaming. Only applied to beer.

1888—1888(Hide quotations)



 C1. (In sense A. 3a.)

  cocktail bar   n.

1929   E. Sitwell Gold Coast Customs 20   The ghost haunting steamers And cocktail bars.
1934   W. Plomer Invaders xiv. 262   What the visitors took to be a cocktail bar proved..to be a gramophone.
1953   E. Smith Guide to Eng. Trad. 145   Various..‘cocktail-bars’ attached to well-known restaurants.

1929—1953(Hide quotations)


  cocktail cabinet   n.

1933   Archit. Rev. 74 228/2   A cocktail cabinet.
1958   Times 3 Nov. 14/1   He can afford to buy, on hire purchase, telly, cocktail cabinet, and washing machine.

1933—1958(Hide quotations)


  cocktail glass   n.

1907   E. Wharton Fruit of Tree iii. xxiv. 354   Leaving everywhere in her wake a trail of cigarette ashes and cocktail glasses.
1930   A. Bennett Imperial Palace xxxi. 208   Cocktail glasses. Yes. Cocktails were the most profitable trade in the hotel.
1966   G. Greene Comedians i. ii. 53   I remember him raising a cocktail-glass to the light and showing me the delicate engraving of a bull's mask.

1907—1966(Hide quotations)


  cocktail habit   n.

1905   Daily Chron. 22 Dec. 4/5   The cocktail habit.

1905—1905(Hide quotations)


  cocktail hour   n.

1927   E. Hemingway Men without Women (1928) 68   Sometimes, after the cocktail hour.
1930   A. Bennett Imperial Palace xiii. 78   ‘Not quite the cocktail hour here, is it?’ said Sir Henry.
1966   Observer 13 Nov. (Colour Suppl.) 40/2   The Cocktail Hour, commonly known as drinks time, is a mysterious 6–8 p.m. limbo.

1927—1966(Hide quotations)


  cocktail lounge   n.

1939   G. Greene Lawless Roads xi. 287   Racketeers of the brothel and dance-hall and cocktail lounge.

1939—1939(Hide quotations)


cocktail powder   n. Obs.

1865   Reader 8 July 30   Advertisements of quack medicines, patent skirts, cock-tail powders, plantation bitters.

1865—1865(Hide quotations)


  cocktail table   n.

1965   J. M. Cain Magician's Wife (1966) ii. 18   Flanking it were two sofas, a cocktail table between.

1965—1965(Hide quotations)


  cocktail time   n.

1929   D. L. Moore Pandora's Let. Box xiii. 242   A cocktail time dress.
1958   J. Betjeman Coll. Poems 260   Your lives were good and more secure Than ours at cocktail time in Pinner.

1929—1958(Hide quotations)


  cocktail tray   n.

1934   N. Marsh Man lay Dead xv. 265   Rankin is bending over the cocktail tray..shaking up the last of the cocktail.
1958   M. Stewart Nine Coaches Waiting vi. 73   The entry of Seddon with the cocktail tray interrupted us.

1934—1958(Hide quotations)


  cocktail-drinking   n.

1926   D. L. Sayers Clouds of Witness x. 193   I am old-fashioned enough not to have adopted the modern practice of cocktail-drinking.

1926—1926(Hide quotations)


  cocktail-shaking   n.

1936   D. Powell Turn, Magic Wheel i. 59   Walter and Corinne..whispered in the kitchen over the cocktail-shaking.
1963   Listener 28 Mar. 570/1   Claudel does some improving and cocktail-shaking of the legends.

1936—1963(Hide quotations)


  cocktail dress   n. a dress suitable for wearing at a cocktail party.

1935   Times 2 Oct. 17/4   An elaborate dinner ensemble tailored in heavy satin and with a full length skirt..makes a contrast to the cocktail dress which retains its skirt about 12 in. from the ground.

1935—1935(Hide quotations)


  cocktail gown   n. = cocktail dress n.

1935   Times 25 Nov. 17/5   A dinner or cocktail gown.

1935—1935(Hide quotations)


  cocktail-mixer   n. a container in which cocktails are vigorously shaken to mix them.

1904   ‘O. Henry’ Cabbages & Kings iii. 47   A bullet-headed man Smith was, with an oblique, dead eye and the moustache of a cocktail-mixer.

1904—1904(Hide quotations)


  cocktail onion   n. a small pearl onion placed on a stick and served in certain cocktails.

1951   E. David French Country Cooking 217   Pickled gherkins and baby cocktail onions.

1951—1951(Hide quotations)


  cocktail party   n. a party, esp. one intended for social conversation, at which cocktails are served, usually together with other alcoholic drinks, savoury snacks, canapés, etc.

1928   D. H. Lawrence Lady Chatterley's Lover vi. 67   She almost wished she had..made her life one long cocktail party and jazz evening.
1950   T. S. Eliot (title)    The cocktail party.
1950   T. S. Eliot Cocktail Party i. i. 12   The only reason for a cocktail party For a gluttonous old woman like me Is a really nice tit-bit.

1928—1950(Hide quotations)


  cocktail pianist   n. a player of light inconsequential (usually jazz-based) background music.

1962   New Yorker 21 July 68/2   Oscar Peterson (the best cocktail pianist in the business).
1965   ‘P. Quentin’ Family Skeletons i. 13   But how few people remember cocktail pianists. They're usually considered as part of the furniture.

1962—1965(Hide quotations)


  cocktail piano   n. a piano on which light background music is played by a cocktail pianist.

1952   B. Ulanov Hist. Jazz in Amer. xviii. 230   His cocktail piano records for Victor insinuate jazz.
1966   Melody Maker 15 Oct. 8/4   This Saturday, he leaves the club as resident pianist and trio leader, and he isn't contemplating a ‘cocktail piano’ job.

1952—1966(Hide quotations)


  cocktail sausage   n. a very small sausage such as is served at cocktail parties.

c1938   Fortnum & Mason Catal. 53/2   Sausages... Cocktail—per glass 1/3.
1939   Vogue's Cookery Bk. 157   ¾ lb. cocktail sausages.
1961   Harrods Food News 5/2   Cocktail Sausages flavoured with chilli.

c1938—1961(Hide quotations)


  cocktail shaker   n. = cocktail-mixer n.

1868   G. A. Sala in Notes & Queries II. 401/1   I never possessed a pair of ‘cocktail-shakers’ myself, but a young officer in the Blues..did possess..a brace of tall silver mugs in which the ingredients of the beverage known as a ‘cocktail’..are mixed, shaken together, and then scientifically discharged.
1928   Observer 17 June 15/4   A grimacing waiter tilts his cocktail-shaker.
1965   W. H. Auden About House (1966) 15   Nobody I know would like to be buried with a silver cocktail shaker.

1868—1965(Hide quotations)


  cocktail stick   n. a small pointed stick on which snacks, sausages, onions, etc., are served at cocktail parties.

1937   ‘M. Innes’ Hamlet, Revenge! i. 22   A luridly-tinged cherry speared on a cocktail-stick.
1953   R. Fuller Second Curtain v. 80   About thirty people stood and talked, holding glasses..and little sausages on cocktail sticks.

1937—1953(Hide quotations)


  cocktail suit   n. a suit appropriate for wearing at a cocktail party.

1950   Leader Apr. 1   A slim girl..in a cocktail suit.

1950—1950(Hide quotations)