A Molotov cocktail is a makeshift incendiary grenade, made with a glass bottle and gasoline. It’s named for Vjačeslav Mihajlovič Skrjabin (1890-1986), better known by his revolutionary name Molotov (molot is Russian for hammer). Molotov served as the Soviet Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1939 to 1949.
The name was given to the device by the Finns in their 1939-40 Winter War with the Soviets, in Finnish Molotovin koktaili. Molotov was reviled in Finland as the man who engineered the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact that allowed the Russians to attack Finland. The name comes from Finland, but the credit for inventing the device goes to Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War of a few years earlier.
From Citrine’s My Finnish Diary of 1940:
When the soldiers attack the Russian tanks, they call their rudely-made hand grenades “Molotov’s cocktails.”
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton