Toast as a verb - origin?

If you were watching The Big Bang Theory this week you would have heard Sheldon explain that the use of toast as a verb dates back to the Romans. I decided to check up on this and I am not so certain.

First, many sites combine this derivation with the “clink the glass to check for poison” lore, which Snopes and other sites deny. If a site started with the poison angle, I distrusted it from there on.

The word toast comes from Vulgar Latin. No doubt there.

The use of toast as a verb shows up first in writing in 1700 according to the OED.

I get the feeling that someone made a leap that they were not justified in making going from one to the other. Does anyone have an authoritative source they can reference?

You just gave it–the OED, and it says just what you did.

The OED explains it a little better under the noun: “the name of a lady being supposed to flavour a bumper like a spiced toast in the drink. See the Tatler, No. 24, of 2 June, and No. 31, of 18 June, 1709, in both of which toast is explained as a new name, upon the origin of which ‘the Learned differ very much’. No. 24 says that ‘many of the Wits of the last Age will assert’ that the term originated in an incident alleged to have occurred at Bath in the reign of Charles II, 1660–1684. No. 31 is silent as to the incident, and gives the account cited below.” By which they mean “1709 R. Steele Tatler No. 31. №8 Then, said he, Why do you call live People Toasts? I answered, That was a new Name found out by the Wits to make a Lady have the same Effect as Burridge in the Glass when a Man is drinking.”

I will say, however, that as evidence this is pretty slim. You have a convenient but far-fetched story connecting two homonyms. Classic ingredients of a folk etymology. Think about the English verb “roast,” where one definition is “a mock serious ceremony at which a guest of honour is subjected to good-humoured ridicule or banter.” It’s a metaphorical extension of but a far cry from the verb roast; toast might well have begun the same way.

Except, in the toast case, it was quite common to put toast=browned bread into a drink such as wine,( to flavor it?) So, not a stretch to me.

At first I was going to point out that "toast as a verb"doesn’t necessarily mean the drink version, and so Sheldon could be talking about something different, but I found the episode online, and we are definitely dealing with drinks.

So instead I will point out that, in the episode, Sheldon never actually says it. All we have is the condensed version as told by Leonard (and repeated by his girlfriend Pria): “The Romans used to put spiced bread in their punch bowls.” We are not getting the whole story. It is therefore possible that he would have explained that the practice of putting the spiced bread in punch dates back that far, but not the term.

That’s something I thought of before even watching the episode, so it’s not entirely a fanwank. The fanwank is only that Sheldon wouldn’t have corrected Pria.