Slainte – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Is St Patrick’s Day coming up? Do you want to be able to make a toast in the appropriate language? “Slainte” is the phrase you are looking for.

This post takes a closer look at the history, meaning, and pronunciation of this important Irish custom.

Meaning

The Irish-language (Gaeilge, or Gaelic) word slainte means “health”. It is spelled “sláinte” in the Irish language, and it is the phrase that is used to propose a toast before enjoying an alcoholic beverage. As such, the best translation to English would be “cheers”.

The Irish word slainte, meaning health, is pronounced “slan-che” or “slun-che”.

Scottish Gaelic uses the same word, in this case pronounced slightly differently and spelled as “shlàinte“.

Example Usage

While the Irish word slainte simply translates to “health” and can as such be used in numerous different contexts, there is only one right way to incorporate slainte into English — say slainte while you are raising your glass, just before you are about to take a sip.

Origin

The Irish word slainte (or, if you want to be a stickler, sláinte) means “health”. It emerged over time from the old Irish word “slán”, likewise meaning healthy or whole, and the suffix “-tu”.

The Irish slainte is phonetically pronounced “slan-che” in English, in which “slan” rhymes with “pan”, and “che” rhymes with “may”.

The original root, slán, likely originated from Proto-Indo-European, from which the Latin word “salus”, again with the same meaning, eventually formed as well. This explains why several European languages use similar words to make a toast, such as:

  • Salute in Italian.
  • Salud in Spanish.
  • Salut in Romanian.

The Irish language largely went extinct by the late nineteenth century as a direct result of British imperialism, and English replaced it as the primary language spoken in Ireland.

As Irish immigration to the United States picked up, however, many cultural customs were preserved, and that includes some words. Slainte is one of these.

Currently, more than 32 million Americans identify as having Irish ancestry, and many of them celebrate St Patrick’s Day, the saint being the patron saint of Ireland. This festival is held on March 17 every year, and it is during this time that slainte is said most frequently.

It is important to note, however, that whiskey connoisseurs across the world have also taken to using the phrase slainte when making a toast in recent times.

Phrases Similar to Slainte

Important phrases related to slainte, which you should also be aware of, are:

  • Slainte mhaith, meaning “good health” — an expanded version of this toast.
  • Slainteagatsa, meaning “and to your health also” — the most commonly accepted reply to the toast “slainte”.

Should you be unfamiliar with Irish terminology, however, it is also perfectly acceptable to respond with “cheers” or another commonly-used toast.

What Is the Correct Saying?

The correct way to say “cheers” in the Irish and Scottish Gaelic languages is “slainte”, meaning “health”.

Ways People May Say Slainte Incorrectly

The meaning of the word slainte may immediately be crystal clear to you, but if you are a native English speaker who is not familiar with Irish or Scottish Gaelic, pronunciation may be an issue for you.

The most common incorrect way in which native English speakers would pronounce slainte after reading it online would be “slain-tey”. In this case, “slain” would rhyme with “brain” and “tey” would rhyme with “hey”.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Slainte

You can say “slainte” — pronounced “slan-che” — when you are making a toast on St Patrick’s Day, perhaps because you are trying to reconnect with your Irish heritage. In this case, slainte serves as a substitute for “cheers”.

You could use the same word in reply to someone else’s toast, but it would be better to say “slainte agatsa”, meaning “to your health also” instead.

Serious whiskey drinkers and connoisseurs have also started to use the toast slainte, and saying it at a whiskey tasting can make you look very knowledgeable.

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