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I came across a headline of an article in the Washington Post (Feb. 2nd) reading ‘Why John Ensign may be toast,’ which is followed by the following sentence;

Embattled Nevada Sen. John Ensign continues to move forward with plans to run for reelection in 2012 despite anemic fundraising and a looming Senate ethics investigation.

Between an ethics investigation and poor fundraising, the Republican senator's reelection campaign might not stand a chance. Ensign is right about it being ugly, but whether or not it's a battle he can win remains a matter of considerable debate.

From the context of the above copy, my take of ‘Be toast’ is ‘On examination (or under criticism).’ in an analogy with bread being toasted. But dictionaries at hands don’t give anything like that definition. In addition, why ‘Toast’ is used as an adjective, not in past participle form in this phrase? Though the phrase is self-explanatory to native English speakers, but not to a late-started English learner like me. Can somebody explain me about its exact meaning?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

It is meant that he will most likely be defeated in the upcoming election. This is repeated in the body of the article with the line

the Republican senator's reelection campaign might not stand a chance.

The expression can be used in more or less any situation where the subject is on the losing end (not necessarily literally). Eg when in an action movie a group has gotten itself in a situation it cannot get out of without getting harmed, that group would be toast.

N.B.: Sorry if the example seemed random, this is just one of those expressions I expect in such a type of movie, so I went with it.

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To be toast is to be ensured defeat. The meaning of the quoted sentence is that the Senator has all but lost the election already.

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Well, the best reference I can think of is from this movie:


Bill Murray gives it a nice spin. Actually the word doesn't just mean "defeated", it means "incinerated" (or turned into something resembling "toast").

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In the movie Die Hard, when a LAPD SWAT armored vehicle is hit with a missile, Theo (Clarence Gilyard Jr.) bursts out laughing and exclaims, "Oh my God, the quarterback is toast!" – Malvolio Feb 3 '11 at 5:54
Malvolio. I found another example of 'toast' usage' for 'ruined, failed' in the following sentense, which I've noted down before, and totally forgot of its meaning: Matthew Tannin wrote (AIG executive) in e-mail that the subprime market “looked pretty ugly” and that, if a recent financial report proved correct, “the the entire subprime market is toast.” Prosecutors juxtaposed that e-mail with a conference call days later in which Tannin told investors that “we’re very comfortable with exactly where we are.” – Yoichi Oishi Feb 3 '11 at 8:41

Here is the Merriam-Webster entry for toast. The last item is the one you're interested in.

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Thanks, Crewe and Robusto-san. I rechecked Kenkyusha’s ‘Readers English-Japanese Dictionary’ to find if I missed the implication of ‘toast’ you taught me and found out ‘toast’ as a slang and an adjective meaning ‘done for / burned’ at the very end of glosses, though it does not show usage as a noun in the same meaning. Mirriam Webster shows the meaning of ‘one that is finished or done for’ as a slang. The definitions of both Mirriam and Kenkusha’s that are listed at the tail agree with each other though the former defines it as a noun, and the latter as an adjective. I think I’m now clear. – Yoichi Oishi Feb 3 '11 at 5:08

Toast is short for toasted bread or other food that can be toasted. That's why it is used as a noun in the sentence.

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