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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Origin and Hopeful Return of "Highball" to Common Speak

Forget how much it sounds like a field sport for stoners, "highball" is a once-popular term for a tall mixed drink, also a word the boss believes should be returned to common parlance.

Bulleit Rye & Water
By Steve Siciliano

Recently I heard my father ask my mother if she would care for a highball. I found this amusing for a couple of reasons. For one, my mother rarely drinks except for an occasional glass of sweet wine or a tumbler of Baily’s on the rocks. For another, how many times do you hear a mixed drink referred to as a highball?

Because I was curious as to how this word become part of the lexicon, I visited the Online Etymology Dictionary and there found that highball dates from 1898 and was derived from the words ball, a drink of whiskey, and high, a reference to a tall glass. I also learned from Wikipedia that highball originally referred to a Scotch and soda but eventually became a catchword for any mixed drink comprised of a spirit and a larger proportion of a non-alcoholic mixer. During a recent visit to the Tip Top Deluxe I ordered a highball and Jackie, who has been bartending for almost eight years, looked at me like I had antennae sprouting from my head.

Obviously the word highball has, for whatever reason, faded into obscurity and that, I think, is unfortunate because highball is a fine word that deserves to be brought back into the mainstream vocabulary. I believe that this can be done if we all work together. Just be prepared for strange looks for a while from bartenders.

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