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 conceiving and 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?