Cocktail Lingo Decoded

Ever get to a bar and wonder what the heck all of the cocktail terminology means? We've broken down the most popular cocktail language so you can properly order a drink without embarrassing yourself.


I’m going to be honest -- even though I have spent a night or two in a bar, I still have relatively no idea how to properly order a drink. With terms thrown around like “with a twist,” “on the rocks” and “neat,” going to the bar sometimes feels like being in another country.

So in an effort the help the helpless like me and so many other cocktail-illiterate out there, I have decoded the most popular bar terms in plain language. Before you know it, you’ll be ordering a dry martini straight up with a twist -- and actually know that that means.

You’ll also impress all of your party guests when you can skillfully make a proper cocktail without a translator. Now, I just need to master how to order a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Dirty: Refers to martinis mixed with olive juice. The more olive juice that's mixed into a martini, the "dirtier" it is. 

Dry: Another martini term. Dry refers to how much Vermouth is put in the martini. The less Vermouth that's in the martini, the "drier" it is -- and the more Vermouth, the "wetter" it is.  

On the Rocks: Drink or liquor poured over ice.

Shaken: The drink has been prepared in a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour all of the ingredients in the shaker (including the ice), and shake until it is chilled. If the drink is shaken long enough, ice chips from the ice cube will be in the drink, which some people prefer. 

Splash: Just a small amount of an ingredient. This usually refers to 1/4 an ounce, and no more than 1/2 an ounce. 

Stirred: Stirred with a long cocktail mixing spoon, then poured into a glass. Martinis are usually stirred, not shaken.  

Straight Up (or Up): Drink shaken or stirred with ice and then poured into a glass. The glass contains no ice, just the cocktail. 

Neat (or Plain): Plain liquor with nothing added, such as plain Scotch or Bourbon.

Well: The cheaper liquor served at a bar. It is usually the house liquor that doesn't have a recognizeable brand name. Sometimes, bartendeders will automatically use well liquor if no specific brand of liquor is requested. 

With a Twist: A twist means a piece of citrus peel, such as lemon, lime or orange, that is cut around the surface of the fruit and forms a twist shape. Twists are usually dropped into a drink, or rubbed against the rim of a cocktail and then dropped in. 

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