[Ads-l] proleptic "toast"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 26 21:02:54 UTC 2023

Meant to share a link to my Wall Street Journal column on "toast":
https://on.wsj.com/3Nn5ClI (Link should be non-paywalled.)

And here's a follow-up thread I posted on Twitter today, with lots of
additional details:


Hat-tips are included therein to Bill Mullins and Garson O'Toole for
turning up great early citations. Elvis "Toast" Patterson also merits a


On Tue, Jun 20, 2023 at 12:54 PM Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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!
> [etc.]
> ---
> 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:
> ---
> https://archive.org/details/KSULKSColl198485V91N2345/page/n5/mode/1up
> 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:
> https://www.newspapers.com/article/omaha-world-herald-youre-toast/126774966/
> "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?
> --bgz

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

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