Why Do Humans Around the World Say Cheers?

By Logan R. Brouse, November 7, 2017

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201703/logan.pngLogan R. Brouse, proprietor and mixologist of Logan’s Punch, has run bars and clubs in Shanghai for over six years. In between hangovers, he puts pen to paper in his column for That's to record his pontifications on the drink industry.

Salud, prost, skål, mazel tov, ganbei, down in one – this is how we say cheers across the world – but did you ever think about why? Why is it that within every drinking culture people make eye contact, clink glasses and say the same phrase over a drink before we imbibe? Well, set up a round of Fernet shots, pour yourself a stiff Hemingway Daiquiri and get ready to learn your way into a black out. 

Any bartender worth their tequila salt has numerous theories about why we do certain bar-related things, and the story that was told to me by my forefathers when I was but a lowly padawan bar back goes like this: 

In ancient times when people would cheers each other, kings, Vikings, pirates and knights would be drinking out of goblets made of wood or metal, and while making eye contact they would slam their cups into each other with the goal of a little bit spilling from one into the other. This way, in true Game of Thrones style, if you poisoned my drink, a bit would also go into yours and form a guarantee of my safety.

This makes sense, but as so many bar tales go – story turns to myth, myth turns to legend, and legend turns into articles in That’s Shanghai. So, like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to be on my toes for some further investigation. 

One of the first theories I stumbled upon was that the ancient Greeks used to cheers to a person’s health to awaken the ghost in the liquor (bonus – that’s why we call booze spirits, because people back in the day thought they were the spirits of the distilled liquids), and those spirits would bequeath health unto said individual. 

Going further down the rabbit hole, I found that some Germanic tribes used to bang wooden and metal goblets on their banquet tables to imitate the sound of church bells, thus also scaring away demons and such. (According to several sources, the superstitious aspect of cheers-ing is why Jehovah’s witnesses refrain from it.) 

Another story goes that the reason we clink glasses is to awaken all five senses. You know, we can smell a drink, we can taste a drink, we can see a drink, we can feel a drink and with that extra clink we can hear a drink. Obviously, this one is bullshit, but it sounds nice. 

We know from back since mankind stopped living in trees and started brewing we’ve been getting hammered – in fact some scientists suggest alcohol is one of the reasons we were able to progress as a species (beer brewing forced nomadic tribes to settle down)– so it stands to reason that ancient humans much as today feared the hangover as much as they loved the ‘spirits’ taking over getting them wrecked. 

Wishing health on the person you are drinking with by clinking your glasses together was a way of waking up the ghosts in the booze, and wishing health, or at least a lesser hangover on your cohorts in this troubled world, and warding off a hangover is just a polite way of saying, Lord, deliver me from this splitting headache that I most surely will deserve.  

As Frank Sinatra once said, “Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy but do as the bible says – love your enemy.”

Read more of Logan's columns here

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