Q: Why is the expression “Here’s how!” used as a toast? Nobody I know has an answer, including my martini-loving 94-year-old mom.
A: The expression is described in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a formula used in drinking healths,” but there’s no clue about what it means.
The OED’s earliest citation is from the late 19th century, when the toast appeared in Rudyard Kipling’s poetry collection The Seven Seas (1896):
“Yes, a health to ourselves ere we scatter. … Here’s how!”
But Green’s Dictionary of Slang has an older example, from The City of the Saints (1861), by the explorer Richard F. Burton:
“We acknowledged his civility with a ‘here’s how,’ and drank Kentucky-fashion.”
Our own searches turned up an example in an 1895 volume of poetry by Richard Henry Savage. His poem “Going Out” is a soldiers’ drinking song with “Here’s ‘how!’ ” as the refrain:
Fill up with merry hearts, dear friends,
And mock the hours too fleeting,
This night for parting makes amends—
I give my final greeting;
May memories of the olden times
Be ever dear as now—
Stand up and drink it every one—
The old times, boys: Here’s “how!”
We’re sorry that we can’t suggest what the toast means—if anything. Perhaps an examination of the following OED citations, plus a few drinks, may help:
“They now say ‘Bungo!’ instead of ‘Here’s how!’ over cocktails.” (From a Massachusetts newspaper, the Springfield Union, Nov. 20, 1925.)
“ ‘Well,’ said Mr. Hull, holding up his glass … ‘here’s how!’” (From J. B. Priestley’s novel Festival at Farbridge, 1951.)
“Martin was clasping a tumbler half filled with whisky. ‘Here’s how,’ said the fat man.” (From Eric Burgess’s murder mystery Divided We Fall, 1959.)
Elsewhere, the OED has an entry for “here’s” as a way of introducing “formulas used in drinking health.”
Among them, in addition to “here’s how,” are “here’s hoping,” “here’s looking (at you),” “here’s luck,” and “here’s to,” which the dictionary says is “elliptical for here’s a health to).” (We’ve discussed a few of the formulas on our blog.)
The earliest of these cited in the OED is from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1597): “Heers to my loue.”
As the dictionary notes, two such expressions are found in Ernest Hemingway’s only full-length play, The Fifth Column (1938): “Here’s looking at you” and “Here’s how.”
But Hemingway outdid himself in one of his short stories, “Up in Michigan,” in which we found a litany of boozy toasts:
“Well, here’s looking at you” … “Here’s all the ones we missed” … “Here’s how” … “Down the creek, boys” … “Here’s to next year.”
In its entry for “mud,” the OED mentions another such expression, “here’s mud in your eye” (or “here’s mud” for short).
It’s described as “an informal salutation before drinking,” along the lines of “Here’s to you!” or “Good health!” or simply “Cheers!”
Why “mud”? Some slang lexicographers have suggested the phrase could have originated in military usage, perhaps as a reference to the muddy trenches of World War I.
But there’s no evidence to support this. Oxford’s earliest citation is from Henry Vollam Morton’s In Search of England (1927): “ ‘Here’s mud in your eye!’ said one of the modern pilgrims, tossing down his martini.”
In fact, most of these bibulous expressions don’t seem to have any deeper meaning. By their very nature, they’re humorous and a bit silly—like “Here’s to the skin off your nose,” which Green’s Dictionary of Slang has traced to 1914.
That last one—or a version of it—was a favorite of P. G. Wodehouse, whom we like to quote whenever possible, so here goes:
“ ‘Skin off your nose, Jeeves.’ ‘Mud in your eye, sir, if I may use the expression.’ ” (The Mating Season, 1949.)