What are we toasting to?

Whether we’re at a party or a bar, meeting new folks or seeing our oldest friends, almost instinctively, we clink our glasses together and exclaim, “Cheers!” But why do we do it?

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There are several possible origins of this tradition. Some have simply proposed that it was a way of alerting waiters and bartenders that the drinks were running low. Clinking glasses sent a message for a refill. Hence, this could also be why we still tap a glass to get the attention of companions when we want to propose a toast.

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Another possible origin story, for the Spanish word brindis anyway, comes from the 16th century when Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s soldiers sacked the city of Rome. Word is that among the celebrating troops, they raised their glasses to the emperor and proclaimed, “Bring dir’s!” In German this means “I offer it to you”, thus referring to the city they had just taken.

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Words for a toast

English takes its toasting language from French. “Cheers” comes from an old French word for “face” and later took on the meaning “gladness” as a way of expressing encouragement. Nowadays it’s simply an expression of camaraderie and celebration. As for the action itself, the word “toast” is rooted in a 17th century tradition that placed spiced bread in some drinks like wine.

The word for a toast exists in at least 50 different languages, which either means that the tradition has a single origin that was spread throughout the world, or that cultures arrived, separately, independently, to this ritual as if the human capacity to make libatious tributes were an instinct.

Meanwhile, a most interesting hypothesis postulates that, due to the high potential for murder by way of poisoning, people would clink glasses together with the intention of sloshing some liquid between them as way to be certain that neither imbiber had had any plans to poison the other. Others saw it as a way of warding off evil spirits.

Fortunately, times have changed and, now, we simply toast for the pleasure of it, to celebrate a special occasion, an achievement, or the simple fact that we are feeling merry and are with those we love. A ritual to health and good wishes for all those gathered. Cheers!

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