Toasts! What to Say When You Have to Say Something
So there you are. Starting tomorrow it’s two weeks of 12-hour days and pure war. But tonight, the whole crew is in the hotel bar. The spirit of camaraderie is bigger than it’s ever been, and lead counsel turns to you and says, “Give us a toast!”
Your mind scrambles for something, anything. Everyone. Is. Staring.
The only toast you know is that “over the lips, through the gums” glurge you picked up watching old late-night movies. So you fall back on a lame general offering: I’m so glad you’re all here and here’s to this project!
Though serviceable, your toast induces eye-rolling so lithic it knocks over everyone’s drinks.
If only you’d prepared! If only you’d primed your brain with great quotes and snippets of Latin and maybe something funny or a little edgy. Well, you should have. And you still can.
Following is a guide to turning yourself into the go-to toaster, providing you with the three kinds of toasts you should always keep in your pocket (with examples) so that the next time everyone raises their glass and turns to you, you kill it.
Step One: Find Your Toast Material
Historic legal writing. Even halfhearted Googling will return decent verbiage from your favorite judges and attorneys. You can cherry-pick from some of their well-known bon mots and you’ll pull off a pretty good moment.
But to develop a truly outstanding toast, you really need to get into their work. Read their articles and books. Read their cases. Find that one passage that stops you in your tracks and makes your inner lawyer tear up a little.
Or you can use these.
Thurgood Marshall: “The legal system can force open doors, and sometimes even knock down walls, but it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me.”
Cicero: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues but the parent of all the others.”
Belva Lockwood: “The glory of each generation is to make its own precedents.”
Abraham Lincoln: “Law is nothing else but the best reason of wise men applied for ages to the transactions and business of mankind.”
John Adams: “It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (The Notorious RBG) “No one can feel free from danger and destruction until the many torn threads of civilization are bound together again. We cannot feel safer until every nation, regardless of weapons or power, will meet together in good faith, the people worthy of mutual association.”
Pithy Latin maxims. Sometimes a toast needs to comment nobly, or gently admonish a group, or maybe just be all stirring and inspirational. Such moments call for ancient wisdom that has been handed down through the ages in nutshell mottos. These are the turns of phrase lifted from the writings of the great thinkers of the classical era, and that pop up now and then in scholarly papers or at the bottom of really good stationery.
The authority and effect of a solid Latin motto come as much from its longevity as its content. Wise speakers and brilliant thinkers have employed them since people wore togas. Such a well-polished phrase lends you a little bit of its history and adds gravitas to the timber of your delivery.
Remember, Latin isn’t generally taught in schools anymore. So before you drink, wait for a beat, then cite the translation.
Abbati, medico, patrono que intima pande. Conceal not the truth from thy physician or lawyer.
Aegroto dum anima est, spes est. As long as there is life, there is hope.
Aut inveniam viam aut faciam. I’ll either find a way or I will make one.
Carthago delenda est! Carthage must be destroyed!
If you’re having trouble finding a proper Latin toast, you can make your own using In Rebus’s Latin motto generator. I used it to write my new favorite toast to politicians: ex vento, verbum (from wind, word).
Step 2: Memorize
Now that you have the perfect collection of toasts, you have to load them into your brain so they’re always there, ready for delivery.
Most toasts are short so they’re easy to remember. But if you’re going to Clarence Darrow or Notorious RBG your guests, you’ll have to spend some time memorizing longer selections of text. If you choose great material, this benefits you far more than your eventual toastees. Bearing selections of great literature, poetry or long quotes in your active consciousness helps you truly understand them. It helps you internalize the lesson inherent in such passages and bear that lesson to fruition in your practice and your life.
Some quick tricks for memorizing:
Write it down. Inscribing an idea on paper inscribes that idea on the mind. Write the entire quote on a 3-by-5 card; do it more than once.
Read it aloud. Reading words aloud lights up different parts of the brain than reading silently.
Break it up into chunks. Instead of learning word by word, try highlighting the concepts. This makes the quote more like a story, which is easier to remember.
Step 3: Delivery
Context matters. Like a ninja, you need to develop situational awareness. Your pithy Latin phrase doesn’t belong at a kegger toast. That’s like wearing a tuxedo to the zoo. Stylish? No doubt. Destined for fail videos on YouTube? You betcha.
Each of your three toasts should be tailored for a spectrum of events, yet be perfect for exactly one.
For instance, you are working in the war room after midnight and everyone’s convinced your case will fail and fail hard. Yet no one is giving up, not one person is slowing down. You are so inspired that when everyone is finishing their terrible takeout grub, you raise a red cup to the ceiling lights and say Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo! (If I cannot bend the will of heaven, I will move hell.)
This is the perfect toast for that moment, but it also works here:
Your Uber gets stuck behind a stalled car on your way to court. You and the driver jump out to help push it and you shake your fist and howl Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo!
Just be sure to growl a little.
“Hold My Beer” Toasts
When you’re among friends and maybe there are a few empty bottles lying around and maybe it’s nearing the end of the night and someone is jangling keys … maybe then is the time for a toast that is both meaningful and funny. My favorite is an old Irish pub toast, used often enough it borders on the Dad Joke end of the spectrum. Still, it works every time:
Here’s to you and here’s to me, Best of friends may we ever be. But should we ever disagree To hell with you! (drink) Here’s to me!
If that undeniably perfect toast doesn’t work for you, try these:
I would rather be with the people in this room than with the finest people I know.
“Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives … and to the ‘good life,’ whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.” — Hunter S. Thompson
Quid pro quo, stat pro quo, Vegas. (What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.)
Call for complete silence, eye the overhead bulb winking through the neck of your beer bottle and say, gravely, et collyridas olei in sartagine præparatur tibi placet? (Do you like pancakes?)
You don’t have to memorize quotes or learn Latin to say something meaningful at the moment while everyone’s glass is raised. You can just wing it. As long as you’re sincere, it’ll work. But it certainly will work better if you’re prepared.