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Some time ago, a question has been asked here about the meaning of the famous toast from the movie Casablanca: ‘Here's looking at you, kid’. Several answers have been posted to it, including a very elaborate and informative one by Sven Yargs. The gist of the answers is that such toasts had been widely used well before the 1940s, and that there is therefore nothing surprising about the inclusion of this particular toast in the script of Casablanca. It has also been pointed out that the choice of this wording may have been due to the fact that it is peculiarly American, and that the scriptwriters were keen to emphasise Rick’s being an American. The OP of that question accepted Sven Yarg’s answer, so it seems that the answer satisfactorily resolved what she found puzzling about the toast.

The answers posted there, however, do not really explain the confusing syntax of such toasts. Their beginning with here is strongly suggests that they have been derived from the more usual toasts of the form ‘here is to X’, which are readily understood throughout the English-speaking world. Now, in these standard toasts, there is a to, which is missing from Rick’s wording (and similar ones), and X is always something or someone that is honoured or celebrated by the toast. Typical toasts in that format are along the lines of ‘here is to the hero who saved us’ or ‘here is to the bride and groom, to whom we wish a lot of happiness’ or ‘here is to the success of the venture on which we are embarking today’. What is puzzling about ‘here is looking at you’ is that it seems to be an abbreviation of some toast in the standard ‘here is to X’ form, but it is not obvious what it is an abbreviation of.

Some people may understand the toast as ‘here is [to the fact that I am now] looking at you’. That interpretation is, however, itself puzzling as ‘looking at you’ is not the kind of thing that is normally honoured or celebrated by toasts. Now, it may be argued that, given Rick’s emotions, his looking at Ilsa at that moment is something of momentous significance, and that it is, from his viewpoint, something worthy of being celebrated by a toast. The argument could make this interpretation plausible in the Casablanca case, but it seem rather implausible in some of the other cases quoted by Sven Yargs, where the toast is used among people who are not lovers, and in the situations that are not as emotionally charged.

Alternatively, one may understand the phrase as ‘here is [to something or other unspecified, while I am] looking at you’. Interpreted this way, this phrase turns out to be a vacuous pseudo-toast: it is something that has the appearance of a toast, but lacks a specification of what is being toasted, which is an essential component of genuine toast. The ‘while I am looking at you’ part does not really contribute any content to the toast, as it can be assumed that one would be looking at one’s fellow-drinkers when making a toast. If one finds this interpretation plausible, one might be tempted to speculate that ‘here is looking at you’ originated among those who felt both the pressure to make a toast before drinking, and the pressure not to delay the actual drinking by spending a lot of time on a conceiving a delivering a genuine toast. People making this pseudo-toast would then be somewhat like those who feel the obligation to say grace before a meal, but end up doing so in a rushed, perfunctory way.

So, the question is: which of these two interpretations is the correct one? Or, is there a third one?

  • This is an idiom, not meant to be understood literally. The correct interpretation is something like: I am acknowledging you. The meaning seems indisputable, but the origin is unclear. Are you asking about the origin of the term? If so, you could make that clearer in your question. – Juhasz May 20 at 15:44
  • It's pretty likely the toast once started "Hear, Hear, this is ..." don't you think? – vectory May 20 at 17:29
  • He affirms in his first sentence that the Casablanca utterance is a toast. You repeat that in your first sentence, calling it a "famous toast". Affirmation is not proof of anything. Furthermore, if I down a glass of whiskey while I am saying: Here's [verb+ing], it's performative, it is not referential. A toast to someone has to be referential. You were looking for another interpretation, I gave you one and yet, it does not seem interesting to you. I assume therefore that you are looking for eggs in your beer. :) – Lambie May 21 at 15:50
  • Lastly, if I say: "Here's looking at you", and drink down a glass of something, I am not necessarily making a toast to you. I'm saying: "Looking at you" = "me drinking this down". Sounds performative to me. And in that sense, I see nothing "American" about it. It's completely and utterly English in all senses of the grammar. – Lambie May 21 at 15:56
  • That's fine but actually, you also fixed it because you originally had: "Here is looking at you". And you still have that in your first comment to me above. – Lambie May 21 at 22:15
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"Here's looking at you, kid." is most definitely not a toast.

A toast with the expression "Here's to" [some idea or person] requires two things: the presence of the preposition "to" and a speaker holding up or having some kind of drink in hand. This is not that.

Please note: Not every way to toast someone requires Here's to. "Here's mud in your eye" is performative. It refers to the action of downing the drink, not to toasting another person. And Bottoms up and Cheers are stand-alone expressions that function as that: single word expressions and are therefore not relevant here.

The analysis here has to contrast the usage. Usage is for the expression: Here's [followed by a verb or noun] versus Here's to [a verb or noun].

It just refers to what he is actually doing. Holding his finger under her chin while looking at her. Below are other examples I just made up.

  • Here's lifting up the child.
  • Here's drinking wine.
  • Here's whupping your ass.
  • Here's dancing a tango.
  • Here's playing the fiddle.

It's a performative-type statement.

"Performative verbs are verbs that describe actions carried out by speakers."

As he says it, he is performing the action of looking at her. It should be noted that the gesture of an adult putting the tip of her or his finger under a chin (often a child's chin or a man doing so to a woman) while speaking words is a well-known gesture of tenderness and love, and even in some cases even gentle admonition of some kind. This is pretty much a standard trope in the Western world.

"Here's" followed by an action verb is well attested in spoken English. A speaker may utter it in relation to a scene being witnessed or in reference to her/his own action. Also,used with "There's".

  • There's dancing the tango. [a speaker points to dancers dancing a tango]
  • There's playing rough. [the speaker indicates people fighting or something like that.]

And it's even used in the past tense, often with the adverb now.

  • Now there was boxing. [in reference to a conversation about boxing.]

Showing affection by lifting a chin with one finger, like in the movie Casablanca.

From the novel: The MacGregors: Alan & Grant by Nora Roberts " Torn between annoyance and her own sense of the ridiculous, Shelby toyed with the stem of her glass. "Men are fickle creatures," she decided. "Apparently." Reaching over, he lifted her chin with a fingertip. "You're holding up well." "I don't like to wear my heart on my sleeve" Exasperated, amused, she muffled a laugh. "Dammit, he would have to pick tonight to show up here."

book from Goodreads

Try googling: love or romance + lift, lift[ing], lift[ed] her chin and you will get a bunch of novels, good, bad and definitely "ugly" (Harlequin anyone?).

The scene from Casablanca does not involving drinking or toasts. It's amazing that so many people mistakenly think it does...

performatives_Austin

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    Would you say that 'Here's mud in you eye' wasn't a toast? Or 'Cheers', or 'Bottoms up'? – Spagirl May 20 at 16:07
  • +1 On reading the title of the question, I immediately thought to myself, That's not a toast. It could be a toast, contextualizing away the lack of the to in the phrase, if (as you say), some kind of beverage were held up or at least a figurative gesture that represents that. Neither is done in the movie. There is no context in the movie that demonstrates it's being said a toast. – Jason Bassford May 20 at 16:56
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    I agree with all this, except I think it is actually a toast. By the way, here it is: youtube.com/watch?v=dqhNZJKMFLc – Greg Lee May 20 at 17:13
  • It's possible, from where I stand, that the made up exampls' syntax goes back to the quote in question or similar that started as indefinite appelation. – vectory May 20 at 17:35
  • @JasonBassford, perhaps this is not a toast, but if so, it seems rather remarkable that everyone who contributed to the page with the previous question about this phrase took it for granted that it was a toast. The page has been seen more than a quarter of a million times, and yet nobody who saw it felt prompted to suggest that it might not be a toast. – jsw29 May 21 at 0:57

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