Happy National Cocktail Day! A Brief Guide to Cocktail Terms

Cocktails are a complicated business, from the mixology to the glasses to the names. To get you started, drink up these cocktail slang terms and where they come from.

The origin of cocktail

While cocktail referring to a mixed drink with alcohol has been in use since at least 1803, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the word itself has been around since 1750. At that time it meant “a horse with a docked tail that sticks up,” and by 1863 had also gained the sense of “characterized by a lack of gentility or good breeding; lacking social propriety.” 

By 1808, it was used in horseracing to denote a “racehorse which is not a thoroughbred; a horse of mixed or inferior breed.” This “mixed breed” meaning might be how cocktail came to mean a mixed drink. Another theory, says the Online Etymology Dictionary (OEtD), is that it comes from the French coquetier, “egg-cup.” Back in 1795, an apothecary named Antoine Amédée Peychaud (the inventor of Peychaud’s Bitters) would brandy toddies in egg-cups. Eventually, the drink took on the name of the cup.

The sling is a the thing

Of cocktail, the OED also says “there was a gradual transition” from the word referring to “a specific type of mixed drink — essentially a sling” to “being used to refer to any alcoholic mixed drink.” This drink meaning of sling — consisting of “brandy, whiskey, or gin, sweetened and usually lemon-flavored” — is from about 1792. The origin is unknown, but there are a couple of theories. One says it comes from the sense of literally throwing or slinging back a drink while another cites the German word schlingen, “to swallow,” as the source. Popular “slings” include the gin and Singapore varieties.

Measure by measure

You might have noticed bartenders using a nifty silver measuring tool when they make your drinks. That’s called a jigger and measures about 1.5 fluid ounces. The OEtD says the term is from about 1836 and originally referred to a 1.5-ounce shot glass. It might come from an earlier meaning of an “illicit distillery” or else a kind of flea.

Another small measure of liquor is the nip. From about 1736, the term originally referred to “a half-pint of less of ale,” says the OED, and then came to mean any small quantity of spirits. A shortening of nipperkin, a nip might refer to a small sip of alcohol taken on the sly or a miniature bottle of any alcoholic drink.

Shaken versus stirred

We may all know James Bond prefers his vodka martinis “shaken not stirred,” but what does that mean exactly? In the former, the cocktail ingredients are put into a special shaker and, well, shaken (or tossed if you’re 1980s-circa Tom Cruise). In the latter, they’re stirred with a spoon. 

But the differences don’t end there. The Cocktail Lovers says the shaken method is best for cocktails with “strong fruit juice content” while stirring is gentler and the ideal way to mix “a largely spirit-based cocktail” — like the vodka martini. Take note, 007.

Back versus chaser

Backs and chasers are the side dishes of the cocktail world: drinks that accompany the main one. For instance you might have a beer with a whiskey chaser or a Bloody Mary with a beer back. While essentially the same thing, some say the two terms have a subtle difference: a back is usually “sipped alongside another drink” while a chaser follows a drink that’s thrown back quickly.

How do you want it?

Neat? Straight up? On the rocks? It’s all about temperature and purity. A drink served neat is undiluted — for instance, a bourbon neat has only bourbon and nothing else — and at room temperature. This sense of neat originally referred to “unadulterated” wine, says the OEtD, starting way back in the 1570s. The meaning of undiluted liquor is from around 1800.

Straight up or up refers to a cocktail that’s chilled but without ice. However, to make things even more confusing, the term straight might be synonymous with neat. Finally, on the rocks means a drink poured over ice and is attested to 1949, says the OED.


A garnish is a little extra something added to a drink, like a curly twist of citrus rind (attested to 1958) or an olive. Speaking of olives, they’re the default garnish for martinis so if you don’t like them, get your martini “with a twist” instead. If you like olive juice, you’ll want a dirty martini or if you prefer a pearl onion, order up a Gibson.

Swizzle that stick!

Some call them tacky, others call them collectible. Swizzle sticks are used to stir drinks but also act as sometimes elaborate drink decorations. The OED’s earliest citation is from 1879. Earlier is swizzle (1813), referring to various alcoholic drinks. That might come from switchel, a beverage of molasses, vinegar, and sometimes rum.


Some cocktails are a mixture of alcohols only. For instance, a Manhattan is made of whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. Others contain mixers or nonalcoholic drinks, like orange juice. Mix that with some vodka and you have yourself a screwdriver. Add ginger beer and lime juice to that vodka and you have a Moscow mule. For its Kentucky cousin, just swap in bourbon for the vodka. A gin and tonic is (you guessed it) gin and tonic water, a gin fizz is gin, lemon juice, sugar, and tonic water, a jack and ginger is whiskey and ginger ale, and a rum and Coke has rum and, you guessed it, Coke.

Thirsty for more? Check out our posts on funny drink names and beer terminology, and this wine list.

Five words from … Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Welcome to the second installment of “Five words from …” our new feature highlighting interesting words from interesting books! Up next is Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson.

It was an interrelated process of disaggregation, which one night Aram named codevolution.

In Aurora, codevolution is used to describe a process where the evolution of lifeforms begins to diverge, rather than co-evolving as an ecosystem.

Even naming it was a problem, as some called it the cryptoendolith, others the fast prion, others the pathogen, and others simply the bug, or the thing, or the stuff, or the alien, or the whatever.

The word cryptoendolith is formed from roots meaning ‘hidden’, ‘inside’, and ‘stone’.

In the course of this study we found analyses suggesting that the bad feelings engendered in a subaltern population by imperial colonialism and subjugation typically lasted for a thousand years after the actual crimes ceased.

The word ‘subaltern‘ in this context means “marginalized and oppressed by the dominant culture, especially in a colonial context”.

Apparently dreams are very often surreal; oneiric, meaning “dreamlike,” has connotations of strangeness often startling to the dreamer.

The word ‘oneiric‘ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘dream’.

Criminally negligent narcissists, child endangerers, child abusers, religious maniacs, and kleptoparasites, meaning they stole from their own descendants.

Kleptoparasitism is “the parasitic theft of captured prey, nest material, etc. from animals of the same or another species.”

The people from the stations out around Jupiter and Saturn have made up that name for it: they come back from space to Earth to get a dose of bacteria or whatnot, their sabbatical they call it, come back to get sick in order to stay well, but it’s a tough thing for them, and they often come down with what they call earthshock, and sometimes die of it.

Earthshock is a blend of earth and shock, and isn’t actually a thing yet, although space travel itself has a number of serious physical effects.

Did we miss any other great words in Aurora? Feel free to point them out in the comments!

Got a book you’d like see given the “five words from” treatment? Nominate it through this form!

Five words from … The Peripheral, by William Gibson

Welcome to “Five words from …” our new feature highlighting interesting words from interesting books! Up first is The Peripheral, by William Gibson.

Netherton was relieved that she hadn’t yet called the display a shewstone.

A shewstone (often spelled show-stone) is an archaic term for “a polished quartz crystal serving as a magic mirror in certain incantations”.

Your peripheral is a tetrachromat.

A tetrachromat is “a person capable of identifying four primary colors, rather than three”.

It was androgenic, he said, and she knew from Ciencia Loca and National Geographic that that meant because of people.

The word androgenic is usually used in the sense “related to the male hormone androgen” but here is used closer to the sense of anthropogenic, “caused by humans”.

She wore a more ornate reticule than usual, covered in mourning beads and hung with a sterling affair he knew to be a chatelaine, the organizer for a set of Victorian ladies’ household accessories.

Chatelaine is defined in context here. A reticule (bonus word) is “a bag, originally of network, but later of any formation or material, carried by women in the hand or upon the arm, and answering the purpose of a pocket.”

An anthropomorph, really, to be disanthromorphized.

The word anthropomorph can be used to mean “an element in decorative art, derived from the human form” but here is used in the sense of “something endowed with human qualities”.

Did we miss any other great words in The Peripheral? Feel free to point them out in the comments!

Got a book you’d like see given the “five words from” treatment? Nominate it through this form!

10 Awesome Insults That Are Available for Adoption


Insults are some of the best words around (just check out this list), which arguably makes them great adoptees. (And while it might be tempting to adopt an insult in someone’s name, keep in mind you’ll need that someone’s permission.) Here are 10 of our favorite insults that you can still adopt for your very own.


In simplest terms, the term troglodyte is used to refer to someone thought to be “reclusive, reactionary, out of date, or brutish.” You can also use it to compare someone to an ape, a member of a prehistoric race of people who lived in caves, or a creature that lives underground, like a worm. The word comes from the Latin Trōglodytae, “a people said to be cave dwellers.”


Know a spuriously submissive someone who likes to curry favor? You’ve got yourself a sycophant. This word comes from the Greek sūkophantēs, “informer,” which comes from sūkon phainein, which means “to show a fig.” So what does showing the fig mean? The Online Etymology Dictionary says it “was a vulgar gesture made by sticking the thumb between two fingers, a display which vaguely resembles a fig, itself symbolic of a vagina,” and it’s thought that “prominent politicians in ancient Greece” refrained “from such inflammatory gestures, but privately urged their followers to taunt their opponents.”


Then there’s the person who adept at creating a noxious atmosphere, literal or not. Miasma is the word for them. The word comes from the Greek miainein, “to pollute.”


A little dab’ll do ya, especially if you’re a dilettante. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says the word first referred simply to a “lover of the fine arts,” especially “one who cultivates them for the love of them rather than professionally.” The term gained the meaning of an amateur artist but then came to be used derisively to mean someone “who interests himself in an art or science merely as a pastime and without serious aim or study.” As an adjective, it means superficial or amateurish.


Know a know-it-all who doesn’t know it all? You’ve got yourself a sciolist, someone who has only superficial knowledge about a subject but claims to be ab expert. The term comes from the Latin sciolus, “one who knows a little,” and first appeared in English around 1612.


We suppose you can’t get much weaker than milk-soaked toast. This term for someone meek and timid is named for Caspar Milquetoast, a character created by American cartoonist H.T. Webster in 1924. The name comes from milk toast, an actual dish of buttered toast served in milk with sugar and other seasonings. A similar, much earlier term for someone considered feeble and ineffectual is milksop, which is from the late 14th century according to the Online Etymology Dictionary while milksop the dish (bread soaked in milk) came afterward, in the late 15th century.


Need a good word for a coward? Poltroon at your service. The word comes from the Italian poltrone, “lazy fellow, coward,” which apparently comes from poltro meaning couch or bed. That  might come from the Latin pullus, “young of an animal.”


The excellent quidnunc is perfect for the nosy gossip. It comes from the Latin quid nunc meaning “What now?” and, according to the OED, first appeared in English in a 1709 issue of a “society journal” called Tatler: “The insignificancy of my manners to the rest of the world makes the laughers call me a quidnunc.”


This word for a smug or ignorant person “regarded as being indifferent or antagonistic to artistic and cultural values” or one who “lacks knowledge in a specific area” has somewhat complex origins. It originally referred to an ancient people “who made war on the Israelites,” says the Online Etymology Dictionary, and first appeared in English in the early 14th century. By 1600 it was used humorously to mean a “member of a group regarded as one’s enemies,” says the OED. Around 1824, it gained popularity at German universities as a derogatory term for townies or non-students, and by 1825 came to refer to an uneducated or unenlightened person.


Charlatan is already a pretty great word, but how about mountebank? While now referring to any flamboyant huckster, the word originated in the 1570s to mean a doctor who stands on a bench to hawk “his infallible remedies and cures.” It comes from the Italian montambanco, a contraction of monta in banco, which means “quack” or “juggler” and translates literally as “mount on bench.”

Want even more word adoption ideas? Check out the 10 coolest words we still can’t believe are unadopted, and four wunderbar German loanwords that are also available.

Wunderbar! German Loanwords You Can Still Adopt

The Burnett doppelganger
We’re seeing doppel.

Last week we brought 10 of the coolest words we can’t believe no one has adopted. Today we have seven four excellent German loanwords that are also still available. They might be called untranslatables — that is, words that don’t have corresponding word in another language, in this case English — or you can just call them wunderbar.


Quick, adopt doppelganger before your evil twin does! An apparition or double of someone still living, the term translates literally as “double goer” and originally had a paranormal sense.

UPDATE: Doppelganger has been adopted! Thank you Mark Cohen aka @gliageek! We’re so happy this good word has found a good home.


We can hardly believe it ourselves, but schadenfreude is still unadopted. Translating literally as “damage” (Schaden) “joy” (Freude), this term refers to pleasure that comes from another’s misfortune.


Call something ersatz and you’re calling it an imitation or substitute, usually an inferior one. The term first appeared in English in 1875, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, and comes from the German Ersatz meaning “units of the army reserve” and translating literally as “compensation, replacement, substitute.”


In addition to being the original name of the Wordnik community page, a zeitgeist is the spirit of a particular time or the defining taste or outlook of a generation or period. The earliest recorded use in English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), was in 1848 by poet Matthew Arnold. It translates from German as “time” (Zeit) “spirit” (Geist).


A gestalt is the “configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.” The word first appeared in English in 1922, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, coming from the German term Gestaltqualität, which was introduced in 1890 by German philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels. Gestaltqualität is from gestalt meaning “shape, form, figure, configuration, appearance.”

UPDATE: Gestalt has been adopted! Thank you Kelly Yoshida aka @typologianista!


Feeling sad about the evils of the world, but in a kind of romantic or sentimental way? You’re feeling weltschmerz. Translating literally as “world pain,” the term first appeared in English in 1875, says the OED.

UPDATE: Weltschmerz has been adopted! Thank you Jack Lyons!


In addition to being fun to say, this word is perfect for chess and German language lovers alike. In a zugzwang, a chess player is forced to make “an undesirable or disadvantageous move.” It translates literally as “pull compulsion.”

Find out some more ways you can support Wordnik.

The 10 Coolest Words We Can’t Believe No One Has Adopted


Since launching our adopt-a-word program back in 2014, hundreds of words have been taken into loving homes. We love all the adoptees, from distinctive and lovely petrichor adopted by @logicalelegance, to capricious quixotic by @digdoug, to loose-lipped loquacious by @misskorbikay. But there are some words we can’t believe are still up for the taking. Here are our 10 most interesting words that are still available for adoption.



Interpretation of Robertson’s Fantasmagorie, 1867

We love this word and not just because of its cameo in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. While it now refers to a fantastic series of images that one might see in a dream or fever or such imagery in art, a phantasmagoria was originally a display of optical illusions produced by a device called a magic lantern, an old-timey slide projector that used light and shadow to produce large, spooky images on a wall or screen.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), this kind of entertainment was first shown by Étienne-Gaspard Robert (also known simply as Robertson) in Paris in 1798, then in London by Paul de Philipstal in 1802 (the word first appearing in English as that time), and by early that century had become popular throughout England.

The word is an alteration of the French phantasmagorie, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, said to be coined the year before by French dramatist Louis-Sébastien Mercier to mean “crowd of phantoms,” and coming from the Greek phantasma, “image, phantom, apparition,” and perhaps agora, “assembly.” However, this second part “may have been chosen more for the dramatic sound than any literal sense.”


This is our favorite word that sounds like the opposite of what it means. Pulchritude, meaning great physical beauty, comes from the Latin pulchritudo, “beauty; excellence, attractiveness,” and originated way back in the 14th century.


Another word that doesn’t sound like its definition, eldritch is a 16th-century Scots term that means strange, unearthly, or eerie. The origin is unclear. While the OED finds a connection with elf, the Scottish variant of which is elphrish, the American Heritage Dictionary says it comes from the Old English el-, meaning “strange, other,” and the Old English rīce, meaning “realm.”



This word meaning pertaining to the evening comes from the Latin vesper, “evening.” Vespers is a religious term that refers to “the sixth of the seven canonical hours,” or times of day devoted to prayer; a “worship service held in the late afternoon or evening in many Western Christian churches”; the “time of day appointed for this service; evensong; or in the Roman Catholic Church, a “service held on Sundays or holy days that includes the office of vespers.” Vesper singular refers to the summoning bell for vespers or the evening star, and is an archaic term for “evening.”


Humpty Dumpty explains the meaning of ‘portmanteau’ to Alice in ‘Through the Looking-Glass’

Wait, portmanteau is still up for the grabs? Indeed it is! This excellent word originally meant a kind of suitcase that opens into “two hinged compartments” but now perhaps more popularly (at least to us) refers to a word that’s a blend of two or more other words. The latter definition was coined by Lewis Carroll: “Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’… You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”



We love this term meaning “feeling or showing haughty disdain” because of where it comes from: the Latin supercilium, which refers to “haughty demeanor, pride” but translates literally as “eyebrow.”



Auspicious is another word with an excellent etymology. Meaning lucky or prosperous, this term ultimately comes from the Latin auspicium, meaning “divination by observing the flight of birds.”


Lambent’s origin is bit a lascivious. Meaning flickering over a surface (as “lambent moonlight”), “effortlessly light or brilliant” (as “lambent wit”), or having “a gentle glow,” the word comes from the Latin lambere, “to lick.”


Got an unrequited kind of love? That’s limerence, a term introduced by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in her 1979 book, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. Tennov says the word has “no etymology whatsoever.”



This beautiful word can mean producing “a display of lustrous, rainbowlike colors,” or “brilliant, lustrous, or colorful in effect or appearance.” According to the OED, iridescent was coined by Irish geologist Richard Kirwan in his 1794 book, Elements of Mineralogy: “When polished, becomes iridescent.”

Have we piqued your interest? Find out more about adopting a word and other ways you can support Wordnik.


Word Buzz Wednesday: nationalist, cannibal morph, sprezzatura

What are you looking at?
Too cool for school.

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, the scary edition! In our latest roundup of interesting words: a not-so-simple definition, your newest amphibious band name, a “chalant” nonchalance.


“During a rally Monday night in Texas, President Donald Trump used a word he had never before uttered publicly to describe himself: nationalist.”

Doug Criss, “The definition of a nationalist,” CNN, October 23, 2018

While the definitions of nationalist and nationalism at face value may not seem controversial, there’s no denying their incendiary implications. The original definition of a nationalist, says CNN, is an advocate of nationalism, which refers to “the devotion and loyalty to one’s own country.” However, by the first half of the 20th century, it became “associated with the nationalism movements in Europe that helped lead to World War I and World War II,” and is now “often associated with the far-right, racist ideologies of white nationalists.”

But not everyone sees the term that way. A former senior adviser to Brexit leader Nigel Farage told CNN that nationalism “is a philosophy based around either the nation state, what we know colloquially as ‘countries,’ or around another identity factor, which could be religion, ethnicity, geography or even interests,” and that President Trump is “no doubt using the word to outline his belief in a nation of people unified by beliefs, interests and a common history.”

birthright citizenship

“President Donald Trump is trying to follow through on one of his campaign promises by ending birthright citizenship, a 150-year-old law established in the Constitution that grants U.S. citizenship to anybody born on U.S. soil.”

Alan Gomez, “US birthright citizenship explained: What is it, how many people benefit,” USA Today, October 30, 2018

During his presidential campaign, President Trump pitched the idea of abolishing birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants, says The New York Times, and is now bringing it up again “days before midterm congressional elections.”

So what exactly is birthright citizenship? It’s the “principle that anybody born on U.S. soil becomes a U.S. citizen,” says USA Today. It “was added to the Constitution in 1868 in the first sentence of the 14th Amendment, which reads: ‘All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside,’” and was created “to grant citizenship to freed slaves after the Civil War.” Since then it “has become a bedrock of U.S. immigration law that has allowed anybody born in the U.S. to become citizens.”

As for President Trump’s claim that the U.S. is the only country in the world to grant birthright citizenship, it’s untrue: at least 30 other countries grant it, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. Finally, for the record, the president can’t undo an amendment with an executive order. Says House Speaker Paul Ryan: “It would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process.”

carnivore morph

“These tadpoles become what’s known as a carnivore morph, ‘a much bigger tadpole’ with ‘much bigger mouthparts,’ says Greg Pauly, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.”

Liz Langley, “Neither cute nor cuddly: These animal babies are wee monsters,” National Geographic, October 26, 2018

Your newest band name is here. Some tadpoles of the spadefoot toad begin as omnivores, says National Geographic. That is, an animal that eats both plants and meat. However, once it gets a taste of flesh, it becomes a carnivore morph, avoiding plants and sticking to “fairy shrimp, its toad cousins, and sometimes its own species.”


“It’s called moulage, the art applying mock injuries through makeup, and staff uses the technique year-round.”

Carilion staff practice frightful wounds ahead of Halloween,” WDBJ, October 30, 2018

The original meaning of moulage is “a mold, as of a footprint, made for use in a criminal investigation,” as well as the “making of such a mold or cast, as with plaster of Paris.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term comes from the French moulage, the act of molding something.


“The trained observer sees sprezzatura as a sign that the individual has put in the work. The individual has attained such a level of mastery that he is able to conceal his movements and make difficult things look easy.”

Louis Chew, “The Key to the Effortless Cool Known as “‘Sprezzatura”’ Is Hard Work,” Quartzy, October 30, 2018

Sprezzatura, a kind of studied carelessness or nonchalance, seems to have been coined by 16th-century Italian courtier Baldassare Castiglione in his writing, The Book of the Courtier. The term first appeared in English in the 1950s, says the OED, and referred specifically to art: “The quality that the Italian critics called sprezzatura.”