There’s a several scenes from my favorite movie Local Hero that I replay in my head. This scene is on the beach, while Mac and the locals wait for Ben and Happer to finish their long meeting in the beach hut. They all pour brandy into styrofoam cups and Mac offers a toast:
Mac: “Well, sláinte, everybody.”
Locals: “Eh? What?”
Local Scot: “Skol!”
I’m familiar with sláinte. And in fact I just wrote about it on St. Patrick’s Day. But Scol was something I wondered about… So I had to look it up of course. According to the online Dictionary of Scots Language:
Scol(l, Skoll, n. Also: scole, skole, scoall, scoill, skoill.
[Only Sc. till the 19th c. Norw., Dan. skall, ON skál, whence also Scale n.1
Perhaps, OED conjectures, ‘introduced through the visit of James VI to Denmark in 1589’.]
A drink taken as evidence of the drinker’s good wishes for the welfare of another person or other persons; (a person’s) ‘health’; a toast; also, the cup or glass from which the health is drunk. Also, scoll of drink.
As an American saying sláinte! in St. Patrick’s Day toasts it’s easy to feel a bit like you’re hijacking a phrase that doesn’t belong to you. And maybe that’s why Mac’s toast and the local’s confused reaction resonates for me. We’re all just posers borrowing clever phrases. But since we’re all just raising a glass to the good health of those we’re with, I don’t think they’d mind all that much.
A darker origin of the toast may come from the Vikings, who would drink from the skull of the tribal leader they just killed after battle. This was a tribute to those who fought well but lost, and helped ensure that they would enter Valhalla. They apparently would chant skol! Skol! Skol! as they went into battle, and then enjoy a toast to the fruits of their labor in the skull of the vanquished leader. I think I’d prefer the styrofoam cup, thank you.