It isn’t often that we get confused by a seemingly normal activity. Who would have imagined that the usual act of saying ‘cheers’ before drinking or clinking glasses was anything more than a gesture of goodwill and sheer politeness. In this SocialMettle post, find out why we say cheers and clink our glasses before drinking.
Did You Know?
Xinxin in Catalan, Tchin Tchin in French, Cin Cin in Italian, Tim-tim in Portuguese, and Chin-Chin in Spanish are all onomatopoeic references for clinking wine glasses!
It is considered rude in almost all cultures to start having a drink before clinking and saying ‘cheers’! Of course in present times, this ritual comes to everyone automatically, but one would be inclined to think, being good-mannered was the only reason behind following this custom. However, there’s a twist to this tale, and things are actually not as straightforward as they seem.
From what little is known about clinking glasses and cheering, is that, this tradition has been practiced since centuries, and has some bizarre theories and explanations to put forth. That being said, it is up to you to decide whether to believe in these tales or not.
Why Clink Glasses and Say Cheers?
The definition of the word Cheers in the Oxford English Dictionary is: Middle English: from Old French chiere ‘face’, from late Latin cara, from Greek kara ‘head’. The original sense was ‘face’, hence ‘expression, mood’,later specifically ‘a good mood’. The term ‘to be of good cheer’ implied ‘to put on a happy face’. It is also believed that clinking of glasses was added to the custom of offering toasts, because the sound helped please all the five senses of the guests, and thus enhanced their wine-drinking experience. The act of cheering loudly during a toast was meant to shower blessings upon the person or event that was being celebrated.
The Poison Theory #1
In olden times, it was very convenient to murder a foe by poisoning his or her drink. The Greeks were extremely suspicious of being poisoned, and thus, to ease their fears, the host would pour himself a drink from a common pitcher and take the first sip. Taking the first swig from the wine goblet was a clear indication to the guests that the wine was not poisoned, and they could enjoy the festivities without any worry whatsoever.
The Poison Theory #2
It is also a belief that glasses were filled to the brim and then clinked hard in order to make some bit of the alcohol of each glass pour into the other. This mixing of drinks and thereafter taking a sip was a symbolic gesture that the drinks were not poisoned, and there was no mortal enemy lurking in the group. The genuineness of this theory is doubtful. This farfetched idea in actuality is part of a fictional plot written by Alexandre Dumas.
Warding Off Evil
It is believed that in medieval times, glasses were clinked and people cheered loudly in order to ward off any demons and evil spirits that may have been lurking around. Apart from many other cultures, certain Germanic tribes would yell loudly and bang their mugs of alcohol on the table, so as to scare away ghosts and evil spirits.
Drinking for the Gods
Even though ancient civilizations may not have used the word ‘cheers’ per se, they did have their own way of hailing in honor of their gods during a ritualistic drinking ceremony or feast. The Greeks and the Romans would often drink only after offering wine to Dionysus or Bacchus, their ‘God of grapes and wine’. They would offer libations in honor of their gods and hail in their name. Similarly, the Norsemen hailed their gods Ægir, Thor, and Odin, at funeral feasts, because it was believed that martyrs would have an unending supply of wine to keep them satiated in the afterlife.
So the next time you clink your glass for a toast, remember to wait for the host to drink first, see if he’s alive, put a piece of toast in your glass for more flavor, pour some of your wine into your partner’s glass, hail to the Lords above, and finally, shoo off some pesky demons, before you take the first sip. Cheers!