What's 'cocktail’ attire? Ask McArdle

What does it mean when a party invite stipulates ‘cocktail’ attire? And who invented the term “double-double?”


What does it mean when a party invite stipulates ‘cocktail’ attire?

Of all of life’s enigmas, dress codes can be the most difficult to crack. And the festive season brings a deluge of societal invitations, many of them seemingly crafted by a U-boat’s encryption specialist. When a party planner specifies “holiday formal” or “smart casual,” she might as well be demanding “late-period Etruscan.” Fortunately, the vagueness of “cocktail attire” belies its rather straightforward meaning. For gentlemen, the standard uniform is a dark suit, crisp dress shirt of a solid colour or subtle pattern, a tie and dress shoes. For women, this is an occasion to wear what Mrs. McArdle describes as “a little black dress.” Remember that cocktail functions are a time for refinement, not excess. As etiquette expert Karen Cleveland wisely advised me: “You don’t want to be the flashiest person in the room, but you don’t want to be the most underdressed. You just want to look really well put together.” To “gussy” oneself up, Cleveland, proprietor of the excellent Finishing School blog, advises gents to consider a nice pocket square or a pair of great cufflinks, while ladies can take their pick of jewelry. But please, convey holiday cheer through actions, not fashion. “You don’t want to be pulling out the reindeer sweater your grandmother gave you,” says Cleveland. “Exercise good sartorial judgment.” Words that wise should be printed on a T-shirt.


Who invented the term “double-double?”

In the McArdle household, coffee is consumed in two ways—black or liquored. It is the lone failing in the Canadian character that we drink coffee contaminated with two cream and two sugars, the beloved “double-double” of Tim Hortons. As for the origin of the phrase, my team of research capuchins initially determined William Shakespeare coined the expression in 1606. Upon review, it seems unlikely that the “double double, toil and trouble” that opens Macbeth refers to a cauldron of coffee. After the Bard, the earliest printed reference appears to be a 1994 Globe and Mail article by John Bentley Mays (in which the author suggests a police horse might enjoy the watery treat) but he is clearly indulging in the slang of the day, not coining a neologism. So the double-double’s true origins may be lost in a caffeine-deprived haze. Bill Moir, the company’s chief brand and marketing officer, says Tim Hortons is even unaware of its origins. They only know it started with customers and “just became part of the Canadian vernacular.” The term gained linguistic legitimacy in 2004 with its addition to the Canadian Oxford English Dictionary. Sadly, my frequent order of “Black, my good man, black like the night” is not nearly as common.

Someone keeps taking the office newspaper to the washroom. How do I delicately put a stop to this practice?

Why would you discourage a brilliant multitasking strategy? This industrious individual has found a way to boost productivity, something that is desperately required in this sluggish Canadian economy. I find the commode an ideal location for quiet contemplation, a fine place to read all six volumes of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as well as Us Weekly. If your co-worker’s toilet habits are so lacking that they actually foul the paper, than you may wish to seek employment elsewhere. Otherwise, the only way to preserve your unproductive antiseptic bubble is to purchase a newspaper of your own.

Need advice? Want to settle a debate? Go ahead, ask McArdle anything:

Illustration by Peter Arkle