[Ads-l] proleptic "toast"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 20 16:54:56 UTC 2023

For my Wall Street Journal column, I'm doing some research on "toast"
defined thusly by OED3 (Mar. 2003 draft addition):

  colloquial (originally U.S.). A person or thing that is defunct, dead,
finished, in serious trouble, etc. Frequently in proleptic use, esp. in
_you're_ (also _I'm_, _we're_, etc.) _toast_: you (I, we, etc.) will soon
be dead, in trouble, etc. Cf. _history_ n.
The lines in quot. 1983   do not in fact appear in the U.S. film
_Ghostbusters_ as released in 1985 [sic -- it was 1984], since a
considerable amount of the dialogue is ad-libbed. The actual words spoken
by Venkman (played by Bill Murray) as he prepares to fire a laser-type
weapon, are, 'This chick is toast'; this is probably the origin of the
proleptic construction which has gained particular currency.
1983   D. Aykroyd & H. Ramis Ghostbusters (film script, third draft) 123
Venkman..: Okay. That's it! I'm gonna turn this guy into toast.
1985   Omaha (Nebraska) World-Herald 5 May b2/2   Shake, Fedya..because
you're toast!

I'm looking for early non-"Ghostbusters" uses of "toast" in the proleptic
fashion. So far, the earliest I've found in print (not referring to the
movie dialogue) is this from Sept. '84:

Kansas State Collegian, Sept. 27, 1984, p. 6 (advt.)
The Avalon. [...] Fri. Toga Toga Toga. Put on your toga and come party
Greek style. [...]
The emperor Party-us Maximus has decreed: "Every warrior shall show up in a
toga, or at the stroke of midnight Friday -- you're toast!"

Since "Ghostbusters" was released in June '84, that fits the timeline of
the movie introducing the usage into the mainstream. Here's the 1985
example cited in the OED entry:


"Toast" then shows up in Connie Eble's UNC slang lists in '86 (as noted by
GDoS), and it went into wider circulation after that. Can anyone track down
other early examples?


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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