Monday, July 28, 2014

Double or Nothing

Professor Irwin Corey, the World’s Foremost Authority, who turns 100 on July 29, is still making occasional nonsensical speeches in the well known double-talk that is his stock-in-trade as a comedian. Corey, who famously said, “If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going,” uses a form of double-talk that relies on actual words used in an ambiguous manner to obfuscate sense.  One notable speech of his begins:

“However, we all know that protocol takes precedence over procedures. This Paul Lindsey point of order based on the state of inertia of developing a centrifugal force issued as a catalyst rather than as a catalytic agent, and hastens a change reaction and remains an indigenous brier to its inception. This is a focal point used as a tangent so the bile is excreted through the panaceas.”

There are many kinds of “double-talk,” which can be broadly defined as either (a) seemingly meaningful language that in fact mixes sense with nonsense, usually for comic effect, or (b) deliberately elaborate or ambiguous language used for purposes of deception.

The latter kind, also known as “double speak,” had its modern origin in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, when the government attempts to control thought by introducing ”Newspeak” and the concept of “Doublethink.”  In today’s political world, some examples of “double speak” are pre-emptive strike meaning “unprovoked attack,” enhanced interrogation meaning “torture,” extraordinary rendition meaning “abduction,” and collateral damage meaning “civilians killed in an attack on military targets.”

Among the great exponents of the humorous variety of double-talk was the comedian Sid Caesar, whose technique consisted of speaking rapidly in nonsense syllables that emulated the sounds of various foreign languages.

There’s a web site that generates nonsensical double-talk that peppers the text with false words that sound as though they might be real:

“Is the infrastructure too pervical for the modern day pig farmer, or do they affinate from the government, and when it opens is it moomis or are they frabbis like a local doggie bag?  Moreover, do you think the FBI furboglaft on the public or ovaloffer so much that it isn’t noticed?  Finally, does this place keep staniplad or are they farginomic with underkrep morning hours?

Another site provides a means of creating double-talk by adding the syllable “dag” in the middle of each actual syllable of every word. Thus the sentence “I would like a carbonated beverage becomes “Idagi wodagould lidagike adaga cadagar bodago nadaga tedaged bedage vedager adagage."

One computer-generated form of double-talk uses a data base of actual concepts recombined in a meaningless fashion:

“If one examines Lacanist obscurity, one is faced with a choice: either reject capitalist Marxism or conclude that the significance of the poet is social comment. However, if neodialectic cultural theory holds, we have to choose between subdialectic narrative and capitalist deappropriation. Marx suggests the use of the precultural paradigm of discourse to challenge class divisions.”

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is an old hand at double-talk.  In fact, sometimes he lapses into triple-talk when he’s really waxing poetic.

            Professor Irwin Corey
            Had a moment of glory
            As the World’s Foremost Authority,
            When he tried to join a sorority.

            George Orwell
            Believed Nineteen Eighty-Four would score well,
            Even if Animal Farm 
            Lost its charm.

            Sid Caesar
            Was a funny old geezer
            Who could evoke a
            Lot of laughs with Imogene Coca.

If these clerihews strike you as being metrically ragged, ponder this observation by an anonymous wag:

            Edmund Clerihew Bentley
            Was evidently
            A man
            Who had a great deal of trouble getting his verses to 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Nimrod, You Nitwit!

I was working a crossword puzzle (what else is new?) the other day, and saw the clue “stupid person.”  The solution was six letters, and I already had the first two as NI. Confidently, I filled in NITWIT.  Wrong. It turns out the answer being sought was NIMROD.

This definition of Nimrod is new to me.  As you will undoubtedly recall from your assiduous study of The Bible, Nimrod appears in the Book of Genesis as the son of Cush and grandson of Noah.  He is described as a “mighty hunter,” and the idiom “eager Nimrod” is sometimes used to mean an “especially avid aspirant”—something like the early bird who catches the worm.  Nimrod, incidentally, is sometimes credited with (or blamed for, depending on your viewpoint) building the Tower of Babel.

According to the Online Etymological Dictionary nimrod, for unknown reasons, came to mean a “geek or klutz” in teenage slang sometime in the 1980s.  Other authorities put its use as a “stupid or dimwitted person” even earlier, as far back as the 1930s.

One possible source of this meaning is Looney Tunes movie cartoons, in which Bugs Bunny sometimes refers to his nerdy adversary Elmer Fudd, who is often seen in hunter’s garb carrying a shotgun, as a “nimrod.”  Fudd’s stupidity, which always allows the “wabbity wascal” to get the better of him, may account for nimrod’s usage to mean a dimwitted person. Nimrod is also sometimes used to refer to an inexperienced and clumsy hunter.

The term for “inexperienced and clumsy” versifier is The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who eagerly presents his wares hereinbelow.

            A dimwitted nimrod quite eager
            To play ball as a star major-leaguer
                        Couldn’t pitch, run, or hit,
                        Or catch a fly in his mitt,
            So he found that his chances were meager.

            He decided instead to try tennis,
            His backhand, he felt, was a menace,
                        But his use of the racquet
                        Kept him out of a bracket,
            And he shipped out to find work in Venice.

            He signed on as a new gondolier,
            But this job lasted less than year,
                        For he needed a trio
                        To sing “O Sole Mio,”
            Since it turned out he had a tin ear.
            Poor Nimrod was left with no hope,
            He had reached the end of his rope,
                        Since he can’t be a star,
                        He now props up a bar,
            Where he finds it’s no problem to tope. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hold the Haggis!

Haggis, that Scottish concoction of chopped sheep’s entrails, has been in the news lately.  The Scots, as you may know, are going to have a referendum on September 18 to determine whether they wish to secede from the United Kingdom and become an independent nation.

Making every effort to woo the loyalty of the Caledonians to keep them in the union, the London government is trying to persuade the United States to lift its ban on the importation of Scottish haggis containing sheep’s lungs. Exporting the stuff is apparently one of Scotland’s major cottage industries, and Scots contend that the allowable haggis, without the lungs, is only a pale imitation of their national dish.

Whether it is a good idea to import any kind of haggis, with or without lungs, is a highly debatable proposition.  Consider what it’s made of: sheep’s pluck, i.e. heart, liver, as well as lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and mutton stock, then encased in a sheep’s stomach (whether it’s the same sheep who provided the heart, liver, and lungs is not important), simmered for three hours, and slapped onto a plate, along with “neeps and tatties”—mashed rutabagas and potatoes.  The only remotely saving grace to this culinary monstrosity is that it is traditionally served with a hefty portion of Scotch whisky.

The word haggis dates from the early fifteenth century.  There are two theories as to its etymology: from the French agace or “magpie,” alluding to the bird’s habit of collecting odds and ends, or from the Old English haggen meaning to “chop,” which is also the root of hack.

Robert Burns idolized the dish in his “Address to a Haggis,” which begins:
            Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
            Great chieftain o’ the puddin'-race!
            Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
            Painch, tripe, or thairm:
            Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
            As lang's my arm.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is a fan of only the final course of a haggis dinner, the one that comes in a shot glass. 
            One thing that always makes me gag is
            That Scottish dish that’s known as haggis,
            With some old sheep’s heart, lung, and liver,
            In suet pudding, all aquiver,
            Then stuffed into the old sheep’s belly,
            Where it reposes, ripe and smelly.

            Forget about the neeps and tatties,
            They’ll only turn us into fatties.
            If this all sounds a trifle risky—
            Then serve it with a triple whisky.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cardinal Virtues

When a Roman Catholic cardinal is mentioned in print, sometimes he is referred to with the title “Cardinal” before the first name, as in Cardinal Irving Goldberg, and sometimes with the title between the first name and the surname, as in Irving Cardinal Goldberg.  Why this difference?

It goes back to the Middle Ages, when the title of “cardinal” was given to pastors of prominent churches, who also wielded considerable political power.  They were regarded as the equivalent of secular nobility.  In fact, in 1630 Pope Urban VIII decreed their rank was equal to that of a prince, making them second only to crowned monarchs.  Even today, in the Church of England, the Lords Spiritual, as bishops of the more important dioceses are known, continue the medieval tradition of being seated in the House of Lords.

It was customary for a secular peer to style himself with his given name, followed by the word “Lord”—as in Alfred, Lord Tennyson or George Gordon, Lord Byron.  The reason for this was that often the name of the peerage was completely unrelated to the actual name of the person who held it.  John Smith, for example, might inherit the title Lord Windermere, so in order to clarify his identity, he became known as John (or sometimes John Smith), Lord Windermere.

Since cardinals were regarded as the equivalent of peers, they adopted the same practice for the placement of their titles.

After the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, the Catholic Church discontinued this usage as outmoded.  Today the Vatican website refers to cardinals with the title before the whole name, i.e. Cardinal Irving Goldberg.  Most newspaper stylebooks also follow this practice.

Some diehard traditionalists, however, including many cardinals themselves--no doubt wishing to show their pious respect for the office--cling to the old habit of inserting the title between the first and last names, so it still often appears that way.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou would like to insert his title between his first and last names, but he cannot remember either of them.

            A cardinal whose head was quite fat
            Couldn’t fit in his little red hat,
                        He tried a big miter,
                        But it was still tighter,
            So instead of his prayers, he said “Drat!”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Brits Have A Word for It

The posting of this blog has been erratic for the past couple of weeks.  The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has been visiting some of the disreputable haunts of his dissolute youth in the British Isles, and it was necessary for me to accompany him, in order to ensure that he would quit the pubs quietly at closing time without causing unseemly disturbances, as is his wont.

While I was there, I took the occasion of visiting a few of my own friends, during the periods that the Bard was sleeping off his debaucheries of the previous evenings.  Several times I passed through Charing Cross Station, that busy hub in central London.  A friend related the popular version of the origin of the name “Charing Cross”—that “Charing” is a corruption of the French chère reine, or “dear queen,” a reference to King Edward I’s queen, Eleanor of Castile.

It’s a lovely story, but etymologists say it isn’t so.  They say that “Charing” derives from the Old English word cierring, which means a “bend in the river,” and describes that point on the Thames where the village of Charing had existed since the 12th century.

Queen Eleanor is responsible for the “Cross” portion of the name.  Edward erected a memorial cross to his Queen, who died in 1290, at each of twelve overnight stops of the procession carrying her body from Lincoln to Westminster. One of these “Eleanor Crosses” was erected near Charing; hence the name “Charing Cross.”  It was destroyed in 1647 and replaced by a statue of Charles I.

The Bard has recovered sufficiently from his sybaritic dissipation to scribble the following lines on the label of an empty bottle of Fuller's London Pride bitter beer.

            As I was going to Charing Cross,
            Quite near that pub—The Albatross—
            I met a man with seven wives,
            And they were going to St. Ives.
            Each wife could rest her feet on
            Seven bags by Louis Vuitton.
            Each bag held seven phones

            And seven chocolate ice-cream cones.
            Cones, phones, bags, and wives,
            How many were going to St. Ives?

            If you can’t tell, to save your lives,
            How many were going to St. Ives,
            The answer is none—for, willy-nilly,
            The train broke down at Piccadilly!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Take A Letter

Years ago I used to oversee a competition for readers of Performing Arts Magazine.  Each month was a different contest—such as composing a clerihew or providing the last line of a limerick—always dealing with the arts.  One such competition asked readers to alter one letter in the title of a familiar opera, play, or musical to yield a new meaning and then provide a brief synopsis.  Although this was more than a quarter of a century ago, some of the winning answers are worth repeating even now.

The top prize-winner was How to Succeed in Business Without Really Frying—Japanese sushi millionaire conquers American fast-food market with semi-raw chicken.

Others that struck the judges’ fancy were:

Seven Bribes for Seven Brothers—Scandal rocks the Osmond clan.

Desire Under the Elks—Passion in a flat located beneath a men’s lodge.

Doc Giovanni—M*A*S*H’s Trapper John relocates from Korea to Italy.

Heath of A Salesman—Poignant drama of the bitter turf wars fought by Scottish commercial travelers.

Children of a Lesser Cod—Two poor fish grow up near Squid Row.

An American in Parts—Gruesome discovery in the left-luggage departments of several European railway stations.

Porgy and Bass—The management of Catfish Row decides to diversify. 

The Subject Was Noses—A day in the life of a plastic surgeon.

No prize will be awarded for any additional submissions by readers of this blog—but they are welcome, anyway!

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is certainly no prize.  But you have to admire (or deplore) his persistence.

            A contest was offering a prize
            Of quite a considerable size,
                        An amount that exceeds
                        Ten years of my needs—
            So I entered with several replies.

            It was a most fierce competition,
            And to win it was my great ambition—
                        But my entries were nixed,
                        For the contest was fixed
            (Which always had been my suspicion.)

            I vowed I’d compete one more time,
            And this time my plan was sublime:
                        I paid off the judge—
                        But he still wouldn’t budge,
            And bribery, I learned, is a crime.

            So they charged me with misdeeds aplenty,
            Now I’m serving from ten years to twenty
                         In a fine calaboose,
                        And until I’m turned loose,
            I’ll just bask in my dolce far niente.

Please note that the Bard has given notice that he will be away for a few days on one of his sporadic tasting tours of the Gin Country.  That being the case, I shall take this opportunity to get a little rest as well.  A day away from the Bard is like a month in the country (as someone once said of Tallulah Bankhead). In the meantime, talk among yourselves.

Monday, June 16, 2014

By Any Other Name

Pen names have been used by hundreds of writers for dozens of reasons. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was shy, so he Latinized his first two names, then re-Anglicized and transposed them to become Lewis Carroll.  François-Marie d’Arouet wanted a clean break from his family, so he made an anagram of his surname and added two letters indicating “the younger,” thus creating Voltaire.  (He later used hundreds of other noms de plume).  Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was fleeing creditors after a stay in debtors’ prison, so he adopted the name of a village in southern France and was suddenly Molière. 

The Brontë sisters, Anne, Charlotte, and Emily thought they’d do better as novelists if readers believed they were men, so they issued their works, respectively, as Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell.  (Brontë itself was an invention of their Irish father, who thought it more elegant than his real name, Brunty.)  Benjamin Franklin was trying to be funny when he called himself Silence Dogood, and Erle Stanley Gardner didn’t want readers to tire of his prolific mystery novels, so he signed some of them A. A. Fair.

How William Sydney Porter came to be known as O. Henry can be explained (or not) by several theories—one of them possibly accurate.  Porter used the name O. Henry—a “pen name” in more than one sense—on a story written while he was serving a federal prison term in Ohio for embezzling from an Austin bank.  The reasons for a convict to use a nom de plume seem obvious.  But where did the name come from?

William Trevor, in the The World of O. Henry writes that when Porter was in prison there was a guard captain named Orrin Henry, who typically signed himself as “O. Henry,” and Porter borrowed the name.

Another scholar, Guy Davenport, prefers to explain that “O. Henry” is a cryptic construction from the first two letters of Ohio and the second two and last two of penitentiary.

Adrian Room in A Dictionary of Pseudonyms points out that Porter was a pharmacy worker in prison and used a pharmacopoeia called U. S. Dispensatory, in which a French pharmacist named Étienne-Ossian Henry is mentioned.  It is suggested that’s where the name came from.

Another tale is that an Austin family with whom Porter stayed had a cat named Henry the Proud and he was regularly called with the phrase “Henry, oh, Henry!”  (This version begins to encroach on the candy bar of that name.)

If his own version can be believed, Porter gave this account to an interviewer from The New York Times:

It was during the New Orleans days that I adopted my pen name of O. Henry. I said to a friend: "I'm going to send out some stuff. I don't know if it amounts to much, so I want to get a literary alias. Help me pick out a good one." He suggested that we get a newspaper and pick a name from the first list of notables that we found in it. In the society columns we found the account of a fashionable ball. "Here we have our notables," said he. We looked down the list and my eye lighted on the name Henry, "That'll do for a last name," said I. "Now for a first name. I want something short. None of your three-syllable names for me." "Why don’t you use a plain initial letter, then?" asked my friend. "Good," said I, "O is about the easiest letter written, and O it is." A newspaper once wrote and asked me what the O stands for. I replied, "O stands for Olivier, the French for Oliver." And several of my stories accordingly appeared in that paper under the name Olivier Henry.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, it should be noted in the interest of full disclosure, is a pen name.  In real life, he is The Slob of Sleazy Swamp. 

            Shakespeare took a walk in the Forest of Arden,
            And encountered Voltaire, who said, “Beg your   
            But I happened to notice this very long weed,
            And I’ll mention to you, as I counseled Candide,
            You should spend some more time cultivating your 

            “Fie!” replied Shakespeare, “I’m onto your game,
            You won’t find me gardening—if that is your aim.
            All about nothing you’ve caused much ado,
            For that is no weed that in my garden grew—            
            It’s only a rose by some other name.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

Weird Words

There’s a vocabulary test going around on line that in four minutes purports to tell you how well you speak English.  I’ve taken the test a couple of times, once scoring 96%, which is excellent, and another time 73%, which is…well, not so hot. 

The test, however, has one big flaw.  It asks you to indicate whether or not you recognize several words, some of which are non-words created just to fool you. If you say you know those non-words, it counts against your score. The trouble is, some of the so-called non-words turn out to be real words.  I said I recognized some of them and lost points for it. For example, I found balker and cuffer in Webster’s dictionaries, even though the online test claims they were made-up words.

Here are some words you may or may not find in a dictionary.  They’re all purported to be real words—but most of them are obsolete or so uncommon that most dictionaries won’t fool with them.  As with many weird words, a lot of them are Scottish in origin.

Snoutfair: A person with a handsome face

Lunt: Walk while smoking a pipe

Groak:  Silently watch someone while they are eating, hoping to be invited to join them

Jirble: Pour out (a liquid) with an unsteady hand

Curglaff: The shock felt when one first plunges into cold water

Spermologer: Gossip monger

Tyromancy: Divining by interpreting the coagulation of cheese

Resistentialism: Seemingly spiteful behavior exhibited by inanimate objects

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is a prime example of resistentialism, in that he is almost invariably both spiteful and inanimate.  He also jirbles quite a lot.

            They say that using lots of words
            Will make you seem sophisticated,
            But that advice came straight from nerds
            Who phoned talk shows and bloviated.           

            A case in point: a famous poet,
            Uses lots of words in rhymes,
            But even though he might not know it,
            He repeats some several times.
            Don’t give me more vocabulary,
            Or think that I’m a cognoscente—
            I’ll summon the constabulary;
            The words I know right now are plenty.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Help! Police!

If you find yourself in a foreign country and suddenly have a need for law enforcement, the chances are good that you’ll be understood if you say “Police!”  The similarity in words for the constabulary in languages as diverse as Finnish (poliisi), Azerbaijani (polis), Basque (poliziak), and Swahili (polisi) is remarkable.  In Germany you call the Polizei, in Spanish-speaking countries make that the policía, in Estonia it’s politsei, and when in Rome do as Romans do and ask for polizia. In Bosnia, Lithuania, and Latvia, the cops are the policija, and it Norway it’s the politiet. Even in Russia, once you transliterate the Cyrillic alphabet (полиция), you'll wind up with the politsija. 

And so it goes around the world—except for a few outliers like Hungary, where you would summon the rendőrség (if you knew how), Iceland (lögreglan), Viet Nam (công an), and Wales, where you’d have to shout yr heddlu at the top of your lungs and and hope an officer would respond. 

The word police entered English in the early sixteenth century, from the Middle French police, which stemmed from Latin politia and meant "civil administration."  Its ultimate source was the Greek politeia, meaning "citizenship or civil organization," which derived from polis, meaning "city."  By the eighteen century the French began to use police to mean the "administration of public order."

In 1798 the English formed a unit of officers to protect the port of London, and they called this the Marine Police. This was the only usage of the term to mean a body of law enforcement officers until 1830, when the British established the New Police, a more general organization of crime-fighters. Thereafter other bodies of peace-keepers began organizing as police forces, and the term police was incorporated into various languages worldwide. 

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou tries to avoid the police whenever possible, and, having once dealt with him, the police try equally hard to avoid the Bard.

            The police had to work overtime
            On the day they arrested a mime.
                        Though the mime remained silent,
                        He became rather vi’lent,
            When accused of unspeakable crime.

Monday, May 26, 2014


On Memorial Day many people choose to chillax—a portmanteau word formed from chill and relax.  Chillax is actually a bit redundant, since chill, or sometimes chill out, first used in the 1970s, by itself means to “calm down, relax, take it easy.”

The earliest citation of chill in that sense, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is 1979, in a hip-hop song called “Rapper’s Delight,” recorded by the Sugarhill Gang. A whole gang of what must be writers is credited with those lyrics—including Sylvia Robinson, Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike, Master Gee, Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers, and Alan Hawkshaw, so it’s impossible to know who actually came up with the line “A time to break and a time to chill, To act civilized or act real ill.”

In 1983 Time Magazine ran a piece that observed, “It’d be nice to just chill out all the time and hunt and fish.”

By 1985, chill also meant to “hang out,” that is, to “spend time in idleness or non-specific activity, especially with other members of a group.”

A versatile word through the ages, chill derives from Old English ciele, which means “cold or coolness.”  In the 16th century to chill meant to “lower the spirits or to make sad,” and by the 18th century, it was used to mean almost the opposite, to “quiver with excitement, to thrill.”

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is an old hand at chilling, especially when bottles and ice-chests are involved. 

                        A hopped-up but happy hip-hopper
                        Took a sight-seeing ride on a chopper,
                                    But while he was rapping,
                                    The pilot was napping,
                        Which the hip-hopper thought was improper.
                        So the hip-hopper summoned a copper,
                        Who proved to be not a crime-stopper:           
                                    The cop thought it amusing
                                    That the pilot was snoozing,
                        And the chopper soon came a cropper.           
                        Now you may think this tale is a whopper,
                        But I heard from a trusted eavesdropper
                                    That the pilot, the copper,
                                    And the hapless hip-hopper
                        All met the fate of Big Bopper.                       

Monday, May 19, 2014

What’ll You Have?

One of the customers was speculating the other day about the origin of the word cocktail.  It’s a subject I have not previously dealt with because cocktail is one of those words whose etymology ought to be very straightforward, but, in fact, is cloaked in such an enigmatic miasma of wispy supposition that tracking it down becomes frustrating.

The first recorded use of the word (actually two words) to mean a beverage was in the May 6, 1806 edition of The Balance and Columbian Repository, a newspaper in Hudson, NY. A reader was so puzzled by this usage, that he asked for an explanation, and the editor (whose reply betrays his Federalist political preference) obliged the following week: “As I make it a point, never to publish anything but which I can explain, I shall not hesitate to gratify the curiosity of my inquisitive correspondent: 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 inasmuch as it renders the heart stout 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.”

Originally, most pundits agree, the word was an adjective describing a “creature with a tail resembling that of a cock, or rooster,” specifically a horse with a “docked” tail—one from which the hair has been trimmed down to the fleshy part of the tail.  This was a customary treatment for hunting and coach horses. A non-thoroughbred racehorse, descended from such cock-tailed horses, became known disparagingly as a cocktail.  Later, a person trying to pass as a gentleman, but lacking proper breeding, was called a cocktail. Such an adulteration of pedigree, some linguists suggest, was analogous to the adulteration of liquors in the drink that took on the name cocktail sometime around the turn of the nineteenth-century.

This is a pretty circuitous chain of reasoning, and the acerbic H. L. Mencken, who was known to lift a few cocktails in his prime, was not convinced by such far-fetched explanations. In The American Language Mencken wrote, “The etymology of the cocktail has long engaged the learned, but without persuasive result.” 

He went on to cite William Henry Nugent in an article about cock fighting that surmised that cocktail derived from a mixture of stale bread, beer, wine, and spirits, as well as herbs and seeds, that was prepared by nineteenth-century Irish and English gamecock trainers to condition the birds for fighting.  The trainers began to sample this concoction (before adding the stale bread) and found it to their liking. They called it cock-bread ale, or cock ale, and in the spelling of the time, it became cock ail, and somehow a t was added. 

Another theory suggested by Mencken came from a 1926 article by Marcel Boulenger arguing that cocktail was derived from coquetel, the name of a drink known for centuries in the vicinity of Bordeaux. No explanation is given for the etymology of coquetel.

Yet another version of the word’s origin traces it back to coquetier, which is French for “egg-cup.” Supposedly around 1795 Antoine Peychaud, a New Orleans apothecary (who invented Peychaud bitters), mixed toddies with his bitters and brandy and served them to fellow Masons in an egg cup—and the drink took on the name coquetier, or cocktay and later cocktail in English.

Some other ideas that have been put forth are:

 • Bartenders would drain the dregs of all the barrels and mix them together to serve at a reduced price.  A spigot was called a “cock” and the dregs were “tailings,” so this drink was known as “cock-tailings” or later simply cocktail.

• These leftovers were served from a ceramic vessel shaped like a rooster, with a tap in the tail.

• Doctors treated throat problems with a pleasant-tasting medicine applied to the tip of a feather from a cock's tail.

• The word refers to the fact that a potent drink will "cock your tail," i.e., get your spirits up.

• The word derives from a sixteenth-century drink known as “cock-ale,” whose ingredients included a ground-up boiled rooster.

• There was an Aztec princess named Xochitl (anglicized as Coctel) who was fond of fermented beverages to which she gave her name.

Such confusion is enough to drive you to drink straight gin, as the Bard of Buffalo Bayou has been known to do. The incoherence caused by such overindulgence persists in his surviving works, like the following:      
              A florist walked into a bar,
            And said, “I’ll have two Buds.”
            A laundress right behind him asked,
            “Could I just have some suds?”

            “On second thought,” the laundress said,
            “Make that a cup of Cheer.”
            And then an undertaker croaked,
            “I think I’ll have a bier.”           

            An optician walked into the bar
            And said, “I’d like two glasses.”
            A fisherman declared, “I want
            Some ale—make that two Basses.”

            A milkman walked into the bar,
            And said, “I’ll take a quart.”
            A sailor right behind him piped,
            “Just let me drown in port.”

            A cotton-farmer in the bar
            Remarked, “I need a gin.”
            A census-taker then appeared
            And asked for Mickey Finn.

            A contortionist squeezed in
            And called out, “Bottom’s up!”
            Omar Khayyam came in then
            And wrote, “Come fill the cup.”

            A gunman walked into the bar
            And said, “I’ll take a shot.”
            A realtor scanned the drink list and
            Declared, “Give me the lot.”