Mixonymics: The creative naming of cocktails. Coined by linguist and author Michael Erard (Um; Babel No More) in “Swizzle Me This,” published June 21, 2013, in the online magazine The Morning News. Mixonymics is a blend of mixology (“the study or skill of mixing drinks”) and -nym (“used to form nouns describing types of word or name”; from Greek -onym, name). The American slang term mixology is surprisingly old: the OED tracked it back to the title of an 1891 publication, “Cocktail Boothby's American bartender: the only practical treatise on the art of mixology published.”
Erard introduces mixonymics in his second paragraph:
When it comes to cocktails and the names they’re given, a recipe can’t be copyrighted and a name isn’t usually trademarked, and there’s no governing body, no law of the liquor land that stops the duplication of a recipe or a cocktail name. Which makes cocktail naming—shall we call it mixonymics?—special among naming practices in the modern world: It’s the bartender tribe, not the law, that defines prior art.
Erard interviewed several bartenders about how they named their creations. Some examples:
The Cobblestone: Created by Trey Hughes, bartender at Portland’s Blue Spoon. The Cobblestone “takes two New Orleans cocktails [Hughes] likes, the ‘Vieux Carré’ and the ‘Cocktail de la Louisiane,’ strips them to their core (rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters, Bénédictine), rearranges the ratios, adds some other ingredients, and voilà—‘I was thinking of old streets, old squares, and cobblestones came to mind.’”
The Chapman Cooler: Created by John Myers, bartender at The Grill Room in Portland, Maine, and named for John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, it contains applejack and apple cider.
The Trustafarian: Created by Nathaniel Meiklejohn, a private bartender in Portland, Maine, it’s a twist on The Kingston (note Jamaican pun) that substitutes aquavit for caraway liqueur. “So it’s like a rich kid version of the original,” Meiklejohn told Erard. “Also, I made it with whiskey, which is a bit more bro-y.”
The Last Word: A Prohibition-era gin cocktail revived by Seattle bartender Murray Stenson. Other “last”-named cocktails include Meiklejohn’s La Palabra Ultima, The Final Ward, and The End of the Road.
More tidbits from Erard’s article:
- “Bartender culture … holds that trademarking cocktail names limits creativity. When distilleries try to enforce a trademark, they may win the legal battle, but it sours their reputation.”
- A quote from Nathaniel Meiklejohn: “I don’t want a name to be cheesy or too much of a pun. It’s good to be not too goofy. If someone can’t pronounce it or they feel like they’re being self-conscious about mispronouncing it, that’s a bad name. I want the name to be fun to say. It should also reflect the liquor in it.”
- Speaking of Maine, it’s illegal to sell the Italian liqueur Cynar, which is made from artichokes and other botanicals, in that state. UPDATE: Legalized this week! (Via Michael Erard tweet.)
- “Last September, John Myers said he stopped giving names to his drinks. ‘I was fed up with naming,’ he said. ‘I thought, from now on I’m just going to give them numbers. Like experimental aircraft.’”
- “[C]reative referentiality runs rampant in mixonymics. Perhaps because, for many bartenders, the name comes at the end of the mixing—and the sipping, sipping, sipping. Many cocktail menus contain a fascinating, nearly Joycean sediment of in-jokes, failed poems, portmanteau words, geographical and historical reference, hat-tips, thumb-bites, and general alcoholic homage.”
Here in the Bay Area, I’ve heard of (but not sampled) the Rosebud (at San Francisco’s Local Edition, in the old Hearst Building) and the Stolen Afternoon, the Rickey-Tikki-Tavi, and the Fancypants (all at the Tribune Tavern, in Oakland’s old Tribune Building). The Tribune Tavern also mixes something called the Opposable Thumb from ingredients that include rum, Fernet Jelinek, Crème de Banane, “saline”—saltwater?—and “farm egg.”
Related: My 2010 post on how Prohibition changed branding and language, inspired by Daniel Okrent’s history of the period, Last Call.