A doozy of a Daisy

doozy         daisy

A daisy isn’t just a flower — or a girl’s name. It’s a traditional long drink — a spirit base with lemon juice and sometimes soda, sweetened with grenadine, sugar or a fruit syrup –and it’s been enjoyed in its various brandy and gin incarnations since the mid-19th century. According to WebTender Wiki (yes, there is one), a recipe for Brandy Daisy was listed in Scientific Bar-Keeping by Joseph W. Gibson in 1884, and Esquire professes to have another such recipe from “Professor” Jerry Thomas dating back to 1862, calling for curaçao and fragrant Jamaican rum.

Why is the cocktail called a daisy? Chow.com suggests that the name of this old-fashioned relative of cobblers and fixes (and a forerunner of our modern-day sidecars and margaritas) has nothing to do with the pretty English white-petaled flower of which chains are made, but actually comes from another kind of daisy: a slang word used mainly in America from the mid-18th century to describe something first-rate or the best of its kind. And it’s from this hijacked flower name that another American slang word — doozy — also probably grew, in about 1903 as an adjective and just over a decade later as a noun. Like daisy, doozy also describes something extraordinary or surpassing in size — but it can refer to something good or bad, unlike its strictly complimentary forebear.

World Wide Words looks at the history of the doozy and daisy cousins:

“You might think etymologists are slipping their mental gears if I tell you that they’re fairly sure that [doozy] comes from the flower named daisy. But that was once English slang, from the eighteenth century on, for something that was particularly appealing or excellent. It moved into North American English in the early nineteenth century and turns up, for example, in Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s The Clockmaker of 1836: ‘I raised a four year old colt once, half blood, a perfect picture of a horse, and a genuine clipper, could gallop like the wind; a real daisy, a perfect doll, had an eye like a weasel, and nostrils like Commodore Rodgers’s speakin’ trumpet’.

“Experts think that that sense — which was still around at the end of the nineteenth century — might have been influenced by the name of the famous Italian actress Eleonora Duse, who first appeared in New York in 1893. Something Dusey was clearly excellent of its kind, and it is very likely that it and daisy became amalgamated in people’s minds to create a new term.”

It’s been widely theorized that doozy might have had something to do with the Duesenberg automobiles of the 1920s and 30s — things of impressive quality and excellence in their time; however, by the time the first model of the car was rolled out in 1920, doozy was already a fixture in the American lingo. The automobile brand might well have consolidated and helped popularize the word, which survives today as a slang word unlike its older cousin, which has gone back to naming dainty flowers, long cocktails, and women.

Daisy, the girl’s name, means “day’s eye”, from the old English dægeseage and a synonym of the word sun. And because of its connection and shared etymology with the flower, it’s also a pet version of the name Margaret, since Marguerite — the French version of that name — is also a French name for the oxeye daisy.