The language of COCKTAILS From Bellini to Gimlet

Partial to a Painkiller? Keen on a Cosmopolitan? Or maybe something more Dark ‘n’ Stormy floats your boat? Whatever your preference, there’s bound to be something to wet your wordy whistle in the etymological origins behind five of the world’s most popular cocktails.


This peachy brew originated in Venice sometimes in the 1930s or 40s. It was Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry’s Bar, who first mixed it up. He called the drink a Bellini because of it’s very particular shade of peachy-pink. The colour reminded him of the toga of a saint in a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini. An aptly classy origin for the name of a particularly classy cocktail.


The name of the rum-based drink is also the name of an iron mine near Santiago in Cuba. The drink was invented by an American mining engineer called Jennings Cox who was stationed in Cuba during the Spanish–American War. Quite how an engineer had the time or the resources to invent a cocktail in war-torn Cuba isn’t clear. Anyhow, when peacetime came the drink, named after the iron mine, became hugely popular in both Cuba and America.

  1. MAI TAI

Another rum-based cocktail. The name comes from the Tahitian word for brilliant – maita’i. Apparently this is what was shouted by the first people to try it. Although they might have had something different to say the morning after.


In 1874 there was a popular prank in New York. You told your mate that someone called Tom Collins had been saying nasty things about them behind their back. The aim was to wind them up so much that they went looking for this fictional person. This silly hoax achieved legendary status when Jerry Thomas, the father of American mixology, included a gin cocktail called Tom Collins in his book, The Bartenders’ Guide.


This gin and lime mix has a couple of possible origins, both quite appealing. It might be named after the tool for drilling small holes, owing to its sharp and piercing flavour. Alternatively, it could be named after its inventor, Surgeon Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette. It’s said that he had the idea of adding lime to the daily gin ration of his sailors during long voyages, thus keeping scurvy at bay.

The origin of the word cocktail itself is open to debate. Some think that it’s a mangled English pronunciation of the French coquetier, which means egg cup. The theory behind this is that the French apothecary who “invented” the cocktail served his brandy-based drinks in an egg cup, which inspired the name.

Another idea stems from the fact that the word in old English referred to a horse with a docked tail. The theory is that it was the tails of mixed breed horses that were more likely to be docked, so the word started being used to refer to drinks that were likewise ‘mixed’.

Something to consider over your next caipirinha…

Posted in Etymology