It gives me great pleasure. — G. B. Shaw
George Bernard Shaw offered this toast during a fashionable English dinner party. Back then, it was customary for the host to appoint the toaster as well as supply the subject. Sex was the subject. Since sex was unmentionable in polite society at the turn of the century, this was an amusing attempt to tongue-tie Shaw and quash his legendary wit. The ruse failed as his clever toast lives on a hundred years later.
Toasting is as old as literature. Ulysses drank to the health of Achilles in the Odyssey. In Caesar’s Rome, drinking to another’s health became so important that the Senate decreed that all diners must drink to Caesar at every meal.
Ancient Greeks toasted the health of friends to assure them the wine was not poisoned since poisoning wine was a common means of dispatching an enemy. Thus it became a symbol of friendship for the host to pour wine from a common pitcher, drink it before his guests, and raise his glass for his friends to do likewise.
The term toast comes from the Roman practice of dropping a piece of burnt bread into the wine. This was done to temper bad wine. A thousand years later, Falstaff said, “…put toast in’t,” when requesting a jug of wine in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. Charcoal reduces the acidity of slightly off wines. Latin tostus, meaning roasted or parched, came to refer to the act and the drink.
The first recorded toast in England was in 450 AD at a feast given by the British King Vortigem for his Saxon allies. Rowena, the beautiful daughter of the Saxon leader Hengist, held up a large goblet and drank to the king, saying, “Louerd King, waes hael!” “Lord King, be of health!” He replied, “Drink hael!” The evening ended with Rowena and Vortigern married. For a thousand years, drinking in Britain was accompanied with the same exchange, although waes hael became wassail.
Northern Europeans drank mead or ale from the skull of a fallen enemy. As did the Scots and Scandinavians. Highland Scottish “skiel” (tub) and the Norse “skoal” (bowl) derive from it.
In the 1700’s, partygoers toasted the health of absent celebrities, especially beautiful women. In this way a woman became the toast of the town. By the 1800’s, toasting was the proper thing to do. A British duke wrote in 1803 that “…every glass during dinner had to be dedicated to someone,’ and to refrain from toasting was considered ‘sottish and rude as if no one present was worth drinking to.’ It was an insult to refrain from toasting a dinner guest, as the duke wrote, “—a piece of direct contempt”.
Today toasting is less formal, and the worse for it. It was a rare moment when I saw a well done toast. I was the leader and MC of a general business orchestra. We played at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs. graduation parties, anniversaries, Christmas parties, clam bakes, frat parties, proms, and at gatherings with no special purpose save fun and games. At each gig, toasts were offered, some willingly and lovingly, some under obligation, some under the influence. I have seen over two thousand toasts offered. I regret to say we are not doing well in the toasting department.
At weddings, unprepared best men offered most of the ineffective, inappropriate toasts. Most were self-conscious and ill at ease. For a day that is so minutely planned otherwise this should not happen. The solution is to make sure that the young man understands his responsibility to the groom, and someone provides guidance if needed. A copy of this article, for example. But business people, professors, and woozy after-dinner hosts have all missed their opportunity to be their best—to say and do the right thing, and honor themselves and their guests.
A toast is a mini speech. To be effective, the same rules apply as for a big speech. If you find it painful to stand in front of a group of people all looking at you—and you cannot get out of doing the toast—then do the following:
Write and memorize your two-line toast, For example: “To Bill and Mindy… health and happiness. Cheers.” Or choose a toast from the many offered at the end of this article. Modify it to fit your special occasion. This is permitted and encouraged.
Practice at home.
Practice standing up, standing tall, and standing still.
Practice picking up the glass.
Practice holding the microphone, if there is one.
Practice looking at the person who is being toasted.
Practice looking at the assembled guests.
Practice taking three deep breaths before you speak.
Practice speaking in a firm clear voice.
Practice, Practice, Practice. Winston Churchill, one of the greatest speakers of the 20th Century, said that for each minute of speech one must practice for an hour. Your practice to performance ratio may be greater.
A bit of toast etiquette to keep in mind:
Don’t toast the guest of honor until after the host does. If it appears that the host will not offer a toast, quietly request the host’s indulgence to do so yourself.
Stand when offering a toast unless it is a small, informal group. Standing will get the attention of the group and quiet them down.
Don’t tap on your glass. It is considered slightly gauche in some circles.
Hold your glass up and wait for quiet. You might say, “A toast… ” to encourage attention.
If an appointed toaster is reluctant, don’t insist. They may be unprepared or uncomfortable with impromptu remarks.
Never refuse to participate in a toast. It is more polite and perfectly acceptable to participate with a non-alcoholic beverage or even an empty glass than not at all. My mother, bless her heart, once refused to toast to my glass of water. “I never toast to water,” she declared. It is an old custom and one best not adhered to so publicly.
If you honor your duty as a toast giver, you not only honor yourself and the toastee(s), you show respect for everyone who hears your words.
Toasts for all Occasions
Toasts of Caution
St Patrick was a gentleman
Who through strategy and stealth
Drove all the snakes from Ireland,
Here’s a toasting to his health;
But not too many toastings
Lest you lose yourself and then
Forget the good St Patrick
And see all those snakes again.
First the man takes a drink.
Then the drink takes a drink.
Then the drink takes the man.
Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
To temperance… in moderation.
I’d rather have a bottle in front of me
Than a frontal lobotomy.
(Various: Dorothy Parker, Carlton Berenda)
May friendship, like wine, improve as time advances,
And may we always have old wine, old friends, and young cares.
A warm toast, good company.
A fine wine. May you enjoy all three.
Give me wine to wash me clean
From the weather-stains of care.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Let us have wine and women
Mirth and laughter,
Sermons and soda-water the day after
Wine and Women…
May we always have a taste for both.
Many happy returns of the day of your birth;
Many blessings to brighten your pathway on earth;
Many friendships to cheer and provoke you to mirth:
Many feastings and frolics to add to your girth.
Robert H. Lord
To wish you joy on your birthday
And all the whole year through,
For all the best that life can hold
Is none too good for you
May he/she grow twice as tall as yourself and half as wise.
A lovely being scarcely formed or molded,
A rose with all its sweetest leaves yet folded
A new life begun,
Like father, like son.
Like one, like the other,
Like daughter, like mother.
Every baby born into the world
Is a finer one than the last.
Toasts to the Enemy
Here’s to short shoes and long corns to our enemies.
May the devil cut the toes off all our foes,
That we may know them by their limping.
Cause of Death: Life.
May we all come to peaceful ends,
And leave our debts unto our friends.
May you be in Heaven five minutes before the Devil knows you are dead.
I drink to the general joy of the whole table.
Cheers, no tears!
Ad multos annos–to many years!
May the path to Hell grow green for the lack of travelers.
May you get lost on the road to Hell
And stop in Heaven to ask directions
May you live as long as you want
And may you never want as long as you live.
May you live all the years of your life.
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back,
The sunshine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.
May the best you’ve ever seen
Be the worst you’ll ever see.
Here’s to beauty, wit, and wine,
And to a full stomach, a full purse, and a light heart.
I drink to the days that are.
Here’s to you,
And here’s to me.
Friends forever we shall be,
But—if we should ever disagree,
The hell with you
Here’s to me!
Here’s to you as good as you are.
Here’s to me as bad as I am.
As bad as I am, as good as you are,
I’m as good as you are as bad as I am.
Here’s to cold nights, warm friends, and a good drink to give them.
Here’s to Eternity
May we spend it in as good company as this night finds us.
Here’s to friendship;
May it be reckoned
Long as a lifetime,
Close as a second.
Here’s to you who halves my sorrows and doubles my joys.
May the friends of our youth be the companions of our old age.
May the hinges of friendship never rust, nor the wings of love lose a feather.
Old wood to burn,
Old books to read,
Old wine to drink,
Old friends to trust.
Here’s to true friends:
They know you well and like you just the same.
A speedy calm to the storms of life.
Everybody in life gets the same amount of ice.
The rich get it in the summer and the poor in the winter
Here’s a health to poverty; it sticks by us when our friends forsake us.
Here’s to thee my honest friend,
Wishing these hard time to mend.
It is best to rise from life as from the banquet,
Neither thirsty nor drunken.
Love to one, friendship to many,
And good will to all.
May our faults be written on the seashore,
And every good action prove a wave to wash them out.
May the most you wish for be the least you get.
Here’s hoping that you live forever
And mine is the last voice you hear.
One drink is good.
Two at the most.
Three under the table.
Four under the host.
To our wives and sweethearts.
May they never meet.
Here’s to love and unity,
Dark corners and opportunity.
Here’s to the land we love and the love we land.
Here’s to the water,
Wishing it were wine
Here’s to you, my darling,
Wishing you were mine.
Men are Polygamous
Anniversary & Wedding Toasts
To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.
Here’s to you both, a beautiful pair,
On the birthday of your love affair.
A toast to love and laughter and happily ever after.
Let anniversaries come and let anniversaries go—
But may your happiness continue on forever.
May the warmth of our affections
Survive the frosts of age.
To your coming anniversaries
May they be outnumbered only by your coming pleasures.
Don’t make love by the garden gate.
Love is blind but the neighbors ain’t!
The man or woman you really love will never grow old to you.
Through the wrinkles of time, through the bowed frame of years,
You will always see the dear face and feel the
Warm heart union of your eternal love.
Alfred A. Montapert
Happy marriages begin when we marry the one we love,
And they blossom when we love the one we married.
Health and Happiness!
May their joys be as bright as the morning,
And their sorrows but shadows that fade.
May their joys be as deep as the ocean
And their misfortunes as light as the foam.
To Marriage: A community consisting of a master,
A mistress, and two slaves
Making in all, two.
May you grow old on one pillow.
Grow old with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life,
For which, the first is made.
Love does not consist in gazing at each other,
But in looking outward in the same direction.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
To my wife, my bride and joy.
May we all be present at their Golden Wedding Anniversary.
May the saddest days of your future,
be only as sad as the happiest days of your past.
Thanks for a very interesting article, Steve!
I’ll keep your suggestions in mind if I am ever asked to give a toast!
Thank-you, Ellen. I, too, will keep my own advice in mind… always a challenge.
Hey Steve –
My name is Kelley – I am a small business owner form San Diego, CA…
Just wanted to say how lucky I feel to have discovered you and your website!! The wealth of your knowledge is not only incredibly informative, but has inspired me BIG time as well! Thank you for your generosity!
By the way – These were my three favorite toasts! I hope I get to use them one day! Cheers!
“May you grow old on one pillow.”
“May we all be present at their Golden Wedding Anniversary.”
“May you live as long as you want, and may you never want as long as you live. May you live all the years of your life.”
Thanks, Kelley, for the kind words. Always appreciated.