After spending a bit of time in the UK recently, mostly in the Midlands, it became apparent that I just did not understand the proper use of the word “cheers”. You hear it so much around here that I would find myself just about to say it myself now on several occasions for reasons only subconsciously known, but then stop and wonder why.

When you hold the door open for someone here they’ll usually say, “cheers, thank you”, although sometimes just “cheers”. If you buy something the clerk may say something like, “there you are, cheers”. A co-worker at dinner being given a menu may say “cheers”, or if given a meal, “cheers, thank you, lovely”. However, when a server takes away something they say “thank you” and there is no “cheers” in either direction. Then when at work and a difficult wrinkle appears, someone may say in a downward slide of tone, “oh, cheers”. Finally one thing that I do get is when at a pub over a pint someone may raise a toast with “Cheers!” and everyone joins in.

When I raised the question of the use of the word “cheers” the other night over dinner there was what I thought a look of confusion on some faces. A little jabbing over how Americans speak “American” and not “English” were made along with references on both sides to the Revolutionary War, Classism, Trump, Brexit, and walls. (It was a very entertaining dinner.)

But this is what I finally got about “cheers”. First and foremost I think it means “thank you”. Some believe a little overused, (and this is from the person who I pointed out just said, “cheers, thank you, lovely”, earlier who was surprised with a, “did I?!”) Probing a little more on why I hear, “cheers, thank you”, (as that seems redundant), was met with, “I don’t know”. One thing I did nail down is that if someone says “cheers” first in the “thank you” sense then you do NOT reply with “cheers”, but, (if you do think a reply necessary), a “you’re welcome”. But then we got into the nuances because “cheers” can mean “goodbye” or a toast in which case you should reply with “cheers”.

I don’t know. I guess the next time a “cheers” gets to the tip of my tongue and it feels right I’ll just not overthink it.

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