Wednesday, September 08, 2010


In discussing a vaguely related concept, the idea of proposing a toast during a celebration came up on yesterday’s program. Why toast, of all things? As it turns out, since the 15th century at the very latest, it was customary to place a piece of toast in wine, ale, or even water to enhance the taste. I can’t imagine dropping a crouton in my Manhattan, but tastes change over the centuries.

A cookbook from 1430 recommended sprinkling saffron, ground pepper, sugar, and salt on oiled bread before toasting it over the fire. Nutmeg was also often an ingredient.

By 1700, literal toast had been transformed into a rather belabored metaphor. The belle of the ball or banquet, a young lady, was considered a savory who improved the taste of the celebratory beverage at hand. She was the toast. In Way of the World, Congreve has this line: “More censorious than a decayed Beauty, or a discarded Toast.”

This is not to be confused with toast meaning someone dead, finished, or in serious trouble. This use appeared in the film Ghostbusters when Bill Murray exclaimed, “This chick is toast!”

SIDEBAR: Toasts for All Occasions

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