- Try for Cary Grant's sophistication and Tom Hanks's warmth -- but not Steve Martin's cleverness. Too much wit and you'll seem a nitwit, says Paul Dickson, author of Toasts (Crown Publishers, 1991). Silence would have been preferable to a toast in the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral," in which a friend congratulated the groom on lassoing his bride, since "all his other girlfriends had been such complete dogs. Let me say how delighted we are to have so many of them here this evening."
- Be brief. As Mark Twain said, no toast except his own should last longer than 60 seconds. The more you meander, the deeper in trouble you get.
- Think before you quip. The toast "Bottoms up!" at the launching of a boat race is sure to sink. And don't introduce the governor of the Virgin Islands as the "Virgin of Governor's Island," as a Washington dignitary once did. President Reagan once toasted the people of Bolivia while in Brazil, and President Ford nodded his glass to Israel while visiting Egypt.
- Don't put too much roast in your toast -- or you may burn the host and leave the rest of the audience singed. Also, take care not to upstage the host or hostess. It's his or her right to make the first move.
- Avoid three topics: sex, money, and bathroom behavior, suggests Letitia Baldrige, author of Letitia Baldrige's New Complete Guide to Executive Manners (Rawson Associates; 1993). At best stick to double entendre, as did her father in his favorite toast: "May you live as long as you want to and may you want to as long as you live."
- The less liquor in you, the better the toast.
- Don't propose a toast if everyone's glasses are empty, Baldrige says. This imposes on the host or hostess who must bring out more. Instead, make your toast soon after you notice that the glasses have been filled, or refilled.
- Stand up and raise your glass if speaking before a group larger than nine.
- If you're the one being toasted, don't take a drink. Instead, smile and offer thanks.
- The best toasts are tailor-made. The New Year's toast Baldrige most fondly remembers addressed each of 20 guests individually. "It was so wonderful. We all toasted each other and felt so good."
- Never arrive without a script if you're expected to give a toast. Otherwise, you may be as flustered as the groom who said at his wedding, "Ladies and gentlemen, I, I don't know what to say. This thing was forced upon me."
- Make sure the object of your toast is present. Blinded by a spotlight, Baldrige once gave what she considered to be a clever yet romantic toast to Jacqueline and Aristotle Onassis at their fifth wedding anniversary bash. "When I then asked for everyone to join me, people called out from the dark, 'Tish, they're both out of the room!'"
- If you must give a New Year's toast, relax. Expectancy and optimism electrify the air. You can't go wrong on this amateur night for toasting. So go forth, and toast before you tipple.
Throughout history, whenever wine flowed, words were sure to follow. Though Ulysses drank to Achilles in Homer's Odyssey nearly 3,000 years ago, the first known toast in English was recorded in 450 A.D. Said the beautiful Rowena of the Saxons to Vortigern of the Britons: "Louerd King, Waes Hael!" (Lord King, be of good health!).
The term "toast" itself comes from the 17th-century custom of placing a crouton in the drinking vessel to absorb impurities.
Thankfully, some traditions are extinct, such as Scandinavians drinking from the skulls of their fallen enemies -- thus the toast "Skoal!" Also quaint today is "Here's mud in your eye," which originally expressed the wish that farmers would find soft earth easily turned by a plow.
But some toasts never lose their flavor, such as Humphrey Bogart's to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca: "Here's looking at you, kid."
Brief, heartfelt, and to the point, Colonel Sherman Potter of M*A*S*H made a toast that was everything a toast should be: "To long lives and short wars!" And who could forget Tiny Tim's magnanimous toast in Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol: "God bless us everyone!"