If you are from the United States saying “cheers” typically means bottoms up, or wishing people well, celebrating life, and encouraging them to enjoy their drink. In the UK it also is a common sign-off, just like saying “goodbye.” Read on to find the history of this curious phrase, and where it’s ok to use, or not! Hint — it’s OK, so go ahead and start now.
Cheers – To you health, bottoms up, or drink up
There are a shocking number of ways to say “cheers” around the globe. Sobriquets for a toast include prost, skoal, salut, sláinte, and even Å’kålè ma’luna. We made a word cloud to try to capture all of the phrases, and also found a very nice pronunciation guide here.
It was on TV? What’s a TV?
Of course no one can forget the TV show Cheers. Love it, or hate it, if you have watched it you will remember it. This very popular show ran for 11 seasons on NBC from 1982 to 1993. And in reruns, reruns, and reruns.
The network almost cancelled the show when it launched in 1982 because it’s premier was one of the lowest rankings in the ratings (74 out of 77 for that week). They gave it a bit of time, and it became one of the most watched shows on television. It’s finale had 40% of the US population, 93 million viewers, watching. Not quite the 125 million that watched the finale of M*A*S*H, but a very respectable number.
Was Cheers the best comedy ever?
Many consider Cheers to be one of the best network television comedies of all time. It’s certainly up there on the list with contemporaries like Taxi, and Seinfeld, also shows about modern life with no overriding themes or messages. It’s often considered as important culturally as earlier shows like All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, and M*A*S*H, although those were filled with social commentary on topics like racism, women’s right, and the Vietnam war. Cheers is also sometimes mentioned alongside all-time TV comedy classics Dick Van Dyke, The Honeymooners, and I love Lucy. While it may not be the best ever, its certainly in the top 10 or 15. Polls and critics often give the top rating of all TV comedies to Seinfeld. Cheers to you Jerry!
What a cast!
Cheers featured an ensemble cast that either were or became very successful, including: Ted Danson as Sam, Rhea Perlman as Carla, George Wendt as Norm, John Ratzenberger as Cliff, Nicholas Colasanto as “Coach,” Shelley Long as Diane, Woody Harrelson as Woody, Kirstie Alley as Rebecca, Kelsey Grammar as Frasier, and Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith. Wow!
There’s a real Cheers bar? No way!
This author had a drink one time at the Bull & Finch in Boston, the pub which was the model for the bar in the show. It’s since been renamed Cheers . . . well why not! It was a quintessential pub, surprisingly like the bar in the show.
Go ahead and move the map image, or zoom in . . . that is the Bull & Finch which has been renamed, as you can see in the map.
Cheers – Australian for thanks, English for farewell, and for the Americans . . .
Across much of the English speaking world, including England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, and far beyond, “cheers” means goodbye as well as all its other meanings.
Cheers as thank you?
In fact in many of these English speaking places, especially Australia, “cheers” also means “thank you” or “thanks.” This is a relatively recent development, especially in England where it has only been observed since the mid-1970s, according to the OED.
In American movies the phrase often get’s used cliche-style as “cheers mate.” Of course we, as well as many of you, have heard that spoken with sincere intent, so please go ahead even if it can feel awkward.
What about the Americans?
What about Americans? Is it ok for Americans to say cheers at the end of a conversation? What about signing off in an email? The double meaning of goodbye and thanks, both things you might say at the end of an informal conversation or correspondence really seems to work. This American author has done it, and nothing terrible has happened, so we urge you to ahead and give it a try . . . what can happen?
But what about the applause?
Cheers can also mean applause or appreciation. Clapping, singing, screaming. As in, “the crowd went wild with cheers!” It’s just another great use of the phrase to keep in mind.
So use it, and cheers to you!
Really, its OK to use “cheers,” even closing off an email. We challenge you to try it, even once. We think you won’t turn back! Let us know what you think. And check out our other posts about language. Cheers!