• toast •
Pronunciation: tost • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, Noun
Meaning: 1. (Verb) To warm, to heat bread until it browns. 2. (Noun) A piece of bread that has been heated until it becomes browned. 3. (Noun) The act of raising a glass and drinking in someone's honor, as a toast to my wife. 4. (Noun) Someone so honored, especially a famous person currently receiving acclaim, as she is the toast of Broadway. 5. (Slang, Noun) Something doomed, a complete failure or something soon to be a complete failure.
Notes: The sense of this word has bifurcated, and the two resulting senses have moved so far apart over time that many dictionaries now list them as two separate words: a piece of bread and a celebratory drink. However, we are treating the two senses as one today because, as the Word History will show, we can still trace them back to a single source.
In Play: Let's see if we can come up with a sentence featuring both senses: "Anita Job's career is (burnt) toast because she didn't toast the new president at his welcoming party." Apparently, Anita didn't think the president was the toast of the party. Which reminds me, let's all drink a toast to the end of the US election season.
Word History: The senses of today's Good Word are represented in chronological order in the Meaning above. The verb comes from Middle English tosten borrowed from Old French toster. French inherited its version from Vulgar (Street) Latin tostare, a variant of Latin torrere "to parch, burn", whose stem we see in another word borrowed from Latin, torrid. The semantic trail can easily be followed. It all began in Proto-Indo-European ters- "dry" (which also gave us English thirst). From "to dry" to "toast" is easy to see. But how did we get from bread to a celebratory drink? In years gone by, the "toast" of the table was a lady who was the cynosure of the party. It was the custom to raise a special glass with a piece of spiced toast in the wine to her. Thus a special drink became a "toast". (May we all drink a toast to Cathy Goralski for submitting a Good Word with such an interesting history.)