For some, there’s nothing better than a drink to get into the holiday mood. In that spirit, we invite you to start the year by partaking in this intoxicating mix of stories consisting of three words in equal parts: cocktail, punch and grog. Although this lexical cocktail has English as its base, you will also detect an Indian flavour with a hint of French. Make sure to enjoy it in moderation, because it’s punchy and may leave you feeling groggy. Happy new year!
The word cocktail has many folk etymologies. Its initial sense designated “a cocktailed horse”, meaning a horse whose tail, in an attempt to make it look more “noble”, had been docked in such a way that it resembled a rooster’s feathery tail. During the mid-nineteenth century, it came to mean by metonymy “someone imitating the manners of a gentleman, although with clumsiness or inauthenticity”. It is first attested as a reference to alcohol around the turn of the nineteenth century, in both British and American print media. Another theory suggests a link between cocktail and cocktay (dating back to the Renaissance), an Anglicized borrowing of the French coquetier “egg-cup”. According to this unconfirmed story, establishments would sell strong alcoholic drinks in egg-cups or similar receptacles, leading to an extension to the mixed drink sense.
Meaning a fruit juice-based drink, the word punch reached English from Hindi and Sanskrit, in which páñcan means “five”. This referred to the traditional Indian recipe with five ingredients: tea (or spices), lemon juice, alcohol, sugar and water. The British colonial authorities adopted this drink and began serving it back in Britain, where the recipe changed to encompass a variety of mixed fruit-juice drinks, either alcoholic or non-alcoholic.
The word grog is associated with Edward Vernon, a British vice admiral who was involved in several battles with Spanish forces. In 1740, he ordered that the sailors’ rum be diluted with water to curb disorderly behaviour and save rum in the process. Since the water stored aboard ships spoiled quickly and tasted foul, it has been reported that sailors added lemon juice to the beverage to make it more palatable. Although it was unknown at the time, the addition of vitamin C brought health benefits to the sailors, including the prevention of scurvy. Today, similar concoctions are still a popular remedy for sicknesses such as the cold or flu, and while their curative properties may be questionable, the rum at least helps sufferers to forget their ailments!
The drink’s name is a direct reference to Vernon, whose nickname was “Old Grog” owing to his signature grogram coat. Grogram is a ribbed fabric with a name that comes from its French equivalent: gros-grain (“coarse grain”). A few years after grog was coined, the adjective groggy was derived. While it originally just meant “drunk”, it now means “weak, dazed or sleepy” in a general sense.