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Food and Drinks News

A toast to the history behind toasting.

Spoon University logo Spoon University 6 days ago Valerie Tu

 As humans, we have come up with many sayings to celebrate special holidays and one another. One of those many phrases is, "a toast!". The linkage between bread and alcohol actually has a long history. Through time, that very connection has evolved and become the "toast" we give at weddings today. But why?  

History Time:

The etymology of the word toast comes from the Latin word tostare, which means to grill. By a mysterious chain of events, the word toast came to be, and meant bread that had been grilled by fire. 

a close up of food on a table: WanwanTea on Instagram: “今天午茶我们吃QQ版棉花糖吐司🍬🤗” © wanwantea on Instagram WanwanTea on Instagram: “今天午茶我们吃QQ版棉花糖吐司🍬🤗”

But what does that have to do with our celebratory toast? Well, long, long, ago (for us modern folks at least) alcohol was drunk with a piece of toast in it. Yes, in the drink.  These pieces of toast would be flavored with various spices in order to enhance the drinking experience. But how our ancestors got over soggy bread beats me. 

Yet as they turned into the 17th century, this tradition began to die out. What happened instead was that the fancy shmancy high aristocrats of English society began a tradition to drink to someone's health during the dinner party. That special someone was usually a fine lady, who was then referred to as the "toast" of the company (and I thought our slang was weird). Turns out, they called these ladies "toast(s)" because, just as the toast provided more flavor and spice to the alcohol, so too did these ladies at parties and generally within society. (Uh, I guess old England, I guess.) 

Now during this time period, toast was also consumed with an alcoholic beverage known as wassail. A type of hot spiced ale drink, which was sold by caroling women during winter.

Here we dive into the word wassail and it's contributions to the phrase "a toast". The word wassail comes from very old English. It was originally said as "was heal" which meant, be healthy. In response to "was heal" people would say "drink heal", which meant drink healthily. Do you begin to see how the dots are connecting? The linkage between consuming alcohol and being healthy was a largely held notion. 

a man and a woman standing in front of a cake: Scarlet Raven on Instagram: “Cheers 🥂 to the weekend and cheers to love! . . . I’m getting ready to go shoot a wedding of a very lovely couple. Today will rock come…” © scarletravenn on Instagram Scarlet Raven on Instagram: “Cheers 🥂 to the weekend and cheers to love! . . . I’m getting ready to go shoot a wedding of a very lovely couple. Today will rock come…”

As time moved forward, and cultures intermingled and words morphed, different traditions that dealt with alcohol, health, and food emerged.  Where we can see their similarity is hidden within the various etymologies and traditions that are common across the globe. The association between alcohol and health is ancient, and it's ties to the way we drank in the past have helped shape the very way we speak today. 

So whenever you give a toast, thank our modern culture that allows up to simply sip on the drink, without soggy bread inside, all while appreciating the way our ancient world created our modern world, through language. 

Note: A lot of this information is derived from Dan Jurafsky's book, The Language of Food. It's an amazing collection of histories and cultural lessons that explain why certain foods are named what they are. You can purchase it off Amazon, I really recommend it. It's a simple and easy read. 

(Video provided by Mobile Tak)

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