I'm reading a book called The Good Companions by J.B. Priestley and I came across an odd usage of the word "confusion":

"She's out," said Fauntley, "and I don't know if it would matter if she weren't." And he drank confusion to the woman.

This is the first time I've seen it used like this, so I initially thought it was an error. But then it came up again later in the book:

Few people who came upon Miss Trant sitting erectly with a book ever imagined for a moment that she was happily engaged in drinking confusion to the League or firing a matchlock.

I've been searching on Google and can't seem to find anything. I'm assuming it's some sort of old British saying, which obviously has to do with drinking and (perhaps) the act of drinking in honor of something or as a toast to somebody. But why the word confusion? Are they drinking until they're delirious or what's going on here?

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    It's the opposite of a toast to someone: drinking to wish them bad luck. Odd that Google produces nothing as it's definitely an expression familiar to me from older books. Jul 24, 2019 at 16:36
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    Possibly comes from an old toast: "Confusion to the enemy"... Jul 24, 2019 at 17:16
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    Sometimes a toast can wish mock bad luck too. "Here's mud in your eye" and "Break a leg" are actually wishing good luck, but are said that way out of superstition. Jul 24, 2019 at 17:47
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    It's almost certainly the opposite of '[They] drank health to the king', this being a benison (spoken blessing) rather than a curse. The mantra "Confusion to our enemies!" is, as Cascabel says/implies, a favourite toast (still – many hits on Google, though probably usually semi-seriously nowadays). The other variants have to be seen as employing a performative usage of 'drink', at least intended to actually confer a curse or blessing. // 'Confusion'? this is genref. Jul 24, 2019 at 18:14
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1 Answer 1


Drink confusion to someone is actually an old obsolete saying,( see Google Books) which, as suggested, is meant to bring bad luck.

From In the reign of terror By G.A. Henty

“Drink, drink, my garcon,” a woman said, holding a silver goblet full of wine towards him, “drink confusion to the tyrants and liberty and freedom to the people.” Harry drank the toast without hesitation, and then, heartsick at the destruction and ruin, wandered out again into the streets.

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