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Posted by Bruce Kahl on August 28, 2003

In Reply to: Toast posted by Lotg on August 28, 2003

: Somewhere further down the list, someone asked about the toast "Here's mud in your eye", which made me wonder why the word 'toast' is used in reference to raising our glasses, etc.

: Why 'toast'?

From the Word Detective:

"Dear Word Detective: I read somewhere that a "toast" or "to toast" comes from the Anglo-Saxon tradition of wassailing. Actual toast was thrown into the wassail bowl, and whoever got the toast in their drink would have good fortune the next year. From that beginning came the tradition to "toast" or "make a toast" to a group or some honored person. I am looking for proof that this is correct. -- Blanche Williams, via the internet.

Well, the best I can give you is proof that you are not far off. By the way, I see you have the same problem that I do. I am forever reading interesting things, mulling them over for a few moments, and then promptly forgetting where I read them. I live with the gnawing suspicion that if I could ever remember all the interesting little tidbits I've read over the years I'd have a far clearer idea of what's going on around here.

Although we usually associate the word "wassail" with the old English Christmas tradition of drinking spirits from the "wassail bowl," the ritual of "wassail" was actually a Danish import to England. "Ves heil" in Old Norse meant "be healthy," and was routinely offered as a salutation to one's drinking buddies, who would then reply "drinc hail," which meant "drink to good luck."

Now, as weird as it may sound to us, people back in 12th century England really did like to dip or dunk toast, often spiced, into their wine or ale to improve the flavor, rather as we add croutons to a salad today. Go figure. In any case, the tradition continued for hundreds of years.

At some point, it became common to offer salutations to an honored figure at a banquet, for instance, by noting in one's tribute that the mere presence of the illustrious person made the wine or ale taste better, better even than the best toast in one's drink could have made it taste. This bit of cornball flattery apparently became so common that, by about 1700, any sort of drinking salutation eventually came to be known as a "toast."