I use the word 'cheers' a lot, but it's really started to bug me that others do. It didn't happen 5 years ago, so what it is about now? I saw a banking type get smoked meat today, they said 'cheers' and I almost choked on my rye bread. So I decided to get to the bottom of it.. what the hell does cheers mean, and why has it replaced 'thank you'?
c.1225, from Anglo-Norm. chere "the face," from O.Fr. chiere, from L.L. cara "face," from Gk. kara "head," from PIE base *ker- "head." Already by M.E. meaning had extended metaphorically to "mood, demeanor, mental condition" as reflected in the face. Could be in a good or bad sense ("The feend ... beguiled her with treacherye, and brought her into a dreerye cheere," "Merline," c.1500), but positive sense has predominated since c.1400. Meaning "shout of encouragement" first recorded 1720, perhaps nautical slang (earlier "to encourage by words or deeds," c.1430). Cheer up (intrans.) first attested 1676. Cheers as a salute or toast when taking a drink is British, 1919. Cheerleader first recorded 1903, Amer.Eng. Cheerful is from c.1400.
This is all well and good, highly likely, but a little too indirect (afterall, this is drinking terminology). I heard, that clinking glasses and saying cheers originated from the custom of actually pouring a part of your drink into another's before quaffing it. A gesture of "well met", whether you're afraid of poison, or just a means to share your symbolic wealth with the other etc. I propose then that 'cheers' is more a bastardization or drunken truncation of the possible phrase "to you", which in days of yore'd sound more like "t'youse", which could readily sound like 'cheers'. I get this line of thinking from comparison to other greetings, such as 'goodbye', which is a compound of "God be with you".
Regardless, sober cheersing is rampant, and must be squelched! I don't want to be toasted as if we met and shared special time and bummed smokes off each other and danced to the Beegees and asserted our mutual, undying friendship by someone I only held a door open for once.
These days I say 'ta' a lot. Which generally people don't understand, so I have to follow it up with a quick 'thanks'. Also, Ted Danson is a dildo.