If in English we offer up a ‘toast’ at a special occasion, in Italy celebrations call for a brindisi.
The word is from the Spanish brindis, and according to the dictionary it originally comes from the German bring dirs, meaning ‘bring thee’ (as in, I’ll ‘bring thee’ a drink, a speech, etc.).
The custom dates back to at least the ancient Greeks, with several references made in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to raising a glass in honour of a table companion. The Greeks in turn brought it to the Romans, and it remained popular in Christian Rome.
The custom subsequently fell a bit out of use, but became popular again in Italy in the 16th century, along with reciting versus of poetry you’d composed for the occasion.
A brindisi may be a toast, but you don’t say brindisi when you’re clinking glasses, just as in English you wouldn’t exclaim ‘Toast!’ to your drinking mates.
The Italian word for ‘cheers’ is Cin cin (pronounced chin chin).
This apparently comes from Chinese sailors saying qing, qing (please, please), when knocking cups, partly in playful imitation of the sound of the glasses clinking.
It was later exported to European ports and caught on so much in Italian it became the country’s most popular toasting salute.
Unlike in Anglo-Saxon culture, in Italy, as in most of mainland Europe, it’s important to look all your friends in the eye as you clink glasses. Failure to do so is rumoured to invite seven years of bad luck… or even bad sex.
A couple of alternatives to Cin cin are Salute (to your good health), Cento di questi giorni (may you have a hundred of these days) or even Cento di questi anni or just Cent’anni for short (may you have a hundred years like this) – based on the assumption that the occasion that calls for a toast makes this one of the best days of your life.
Cin cin to that!
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