“Cheers”

The Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) definition 8b for the word cheer is: pl. A friendly exclamation or exhortation to be cheerful; esp. a salutation before drinking. The first citation comes from the copy in an advert (sorry) in a 1919 issue of the magazine Sphere: “Cheers—I’m longing to see you and a Kenilworth together—the two nicest things on earth.” The first drinking example given isn’t until 1946–surprisingly late, it seems to me. Another meaning had cropped up by 1976, the date of a citation from The Times: “By a remarkable transition from the pub to the sober world at large outside cheers has become the colloquial synonym in British English for ‘thanks’.”

With all these meanings, plus the plural of cheer, as in fans’ literal or figurative shouts of encouragement, it is impossible to objectively chart the American use of the word, at least with my limited resources and skill. My impressions are: the drinking salutation took off here right away, and persists; the “thank you” meaning (which I remember being startled by in London circa 1996 when a newsagent [ NOOB alert!] took my coin and handed me a Guardian) has not yet arrived; and the “friendly exclamation or exhortation to be cheerful” has been a resounding success in one and only one realm: e-mail signoffs. This is widely practiced and seemingly inoffensive, yet it raises the hackles of some.  E.g., cheers bothered a respondent to a Lifehacker survey on annoying signoffs because “the sender is almost never (a) British or (b) sharing a drink with me.”

I will not get into cheerio, except to note that it has not penetrated and surely never will penetrate the U.S., except as something the stage Englishman says, and to guess that at this point, it’s used almost solely ironically in the U.K. That is suggested by the final citation in the OED, from P.G. Wodehouse, in which the word has shifted parts of speech, often a sign of its decadence: “You could not have found a more cheerio butler.”

Cheers.

About these ads

5 responses to ““Cheers”

  1. Cheers has long been the most common bar salutation in the U.S. There was even a sitcom named after it, which you may remember.
    And “cheers,” meaning “thanks,” goes back many years in the UK.

    I don’t understand why your site features such ignorant nonsense. Do you think
    extensive quotes from the OED will disguise the fact that you don’t have a clue?

  2. @James Green

    Did you even read the post? Do you understand the point of the website? Not content with being needlessly rude, you were needlessly rude from a position of total ignorance.

  3. “Cheers” has also become an email valediction synonymous with “Yours” and “Regards.”

  4. Oops, you mentioned that in your post!

  5. ‘Cheerio’ is still commonly used throughout Britain without attempt at irony.

    Cheers and cheerio
    Ben

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s