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When You Make Your Toast Tonight
December 31, 2008 - 11:34am


“When at a loss how to go on, cough,” says an ancient Greek proverb. Or so claims 10,000 Jokes, Toasts and Stories: A Mammoth Encyclopedia of Wit and Humor (Doubleday, 1939, last updated 1965), one of several toasting anthologies I consulted at my local library in preparation for your party tonight. Ancient foxed tomes like these, and those that count as new ( Toasts, Delacorte, 1981) are one of many reasons bookstores will never supplant the delight of libraries.

I know how difficult it can be to say the right thing when a few words are needed among colleagues, administrators, students, et al., and I’m here to help. Below you’ll find something for any eventuality, so raise your glass with confidence and say it firm and loud:

To a room full of poets:

A man is either mad or he is making verses. [Horace]

To medical students:

To mankind we drink:--‘tis a pleasant task:
Heaven bless it and multiply its wealth;
But it is a little too much to ask
That we should drink to its health.

To Vassar students and faculty:

And so you see, for old V.C.
our love shall never fail.
Full well we know
that all we owe
to Matthew Vassar’s ale!
[Vassar made his nut on beer, evidently.]

To adjuncts:

May poverty always be a day’s march behind us.

To Rory:

If ever…in the eternal times to come, you and I shall sit down in Paradise, in some little shady corner by ourselves; and if we shall by any means be able to smuggle a basket of champagne there (I won’t believe in a Temperance Heaven), and if we shall then cross our celestial legs in the celestial grass that is forever tropical, and strike our glasses and our heads together, till both musically ring in concert,--then, O my dear fellow-mortal, how we shall pleasantly discourse of all the things manifold which now so distress us,--when all the earth shall be but a reminiscence, yea, its final dissolution an antiquity.
[Originally written by Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne]

To lame-duck presidents:

May we never seek applause from party principles, but always deserve it from public spirit.

To those about whom you feel ambivalently:

May you live all the days of your life. [Swift]

To the politically correct:

Here’s to all the world,--
For fear some darn fool may take offence.

To academic bloggers:

Sunshine and good humor all over the world.

Remember: You may not like the party, your colleagues, your institution, or your milieu. But it could always be worse, so smile and toast cheerfully. As Wilde says in A Woman of No Importance, “I suppose Society is wonderfully delightful…. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it is simply a tragedy.”


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