Etymology Usage

Here’s to the graduate!

Q: We often hear someone raise a glass of champagne and say, “Here’s to the newlyweds” or “Here’s to the graduate” or “Here’s to victory.” But exactly what does “here” mean here?

A: “Here’s to” has been a common way of introducing a toast since at least the late 16th century, according to published references in the Oxford English Dictionary.

It’s short for “here’s a health to.” A “health,” the OED says, is a “salutation or wish expressed for a person’s welfare or prosperity.” In other words, a toast.

The dictionary says the “here’s” formula is echoed in other drinking expressions like “here’s looking at you,” “here’s luck,” “here’s hoping,” and “here’s how.”

The dictionary’s first “here’s to” citation is from none other than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1597): “Here’s to my love!”

Jonathan Swift used it in his A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation (1653): “Come, Madam; here’s a Health to our Friends, and hang the rest of our Kin.”

And convivial types have been toasting each other with “Here’s to …” ever since.

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