What is it that makes a word like swizzle stick in your mind – and in the vocabulary? What ingredients make it such a tropical cocktail of tastes and associations? Is there an umbrella term for such words? Is English stir-crazy, that it likes to stir crazy words of this kind into the liquor of our tongue?
It’s an electric word to look at, with all those angles: wizzl all lines and sharp points, and the only curves at the ends s e – and the s a softened view of a z, or the z’s a hardened and distorted view of the s, as though reflected in ice cubes. Out of it all one letter projects, l, like that little stick in your cocktail… the swizzle stick, of course (I add the explanation for the non-drinkers).
This word mixes the juice of a swi onset – as in swish, swing, swirl, swivel, words with a certain sway or swoop, that fluid motion – with the spirit of an izzle ending that can suggest busy activity: drizzle, fizzle, frizzle, sizzle, twizzle; there are also the tones of dazzle, puzzle, frazzle, nozzle, and especially guzzle and sozzle. Some come via a Latin-derived iller ending in French; some with the frequentative le suffix in English; some through onomatopoeia; and some evidently by imitation of other words. “What shall I toss in here? Oh, yeah, let’s try a shot of that!” This word is of that last sort and has been with us for a tidy two centuries.
So what is swizzle? Is a swizzle stick a stick you swizzle with? No, it’s a stick you stick in your swizzle. Swizzle is that with which you wet your whistle – it’s booze, especially a mixed drink. If you’d stick a swizzle stick in it, it qualifies, though it may have been a bit more specific at first: Dictionary.com (based on the Random House Dictionary, as opposed to a random dictionary in my house) says “a tall drink, originating in Barbados, composed of full-flavored West Indian rum, lime juice, crushed ice, and sugar: typically served with a swizzle stick.”
In other words, like a caipirinha but with dark rum. The sort of muddled tipple you’d like to guzzle when it’s sweltering out and you’re sweating and sizzling. Skip the little umbrella, and who cares about the frizzle frazzle on the swizzle stick: just sit in your swivel chair and tip this booze into your muzzle until you’re sozzled and dozing and all will be swell.