With the Christmas season upon us, you may find yourself hearing and saying cheers! more often, whether as a toast before drinking with friends or perhaps in exchange for a gift. The second of these two senses, as an informal way of saying ‘thank you’, is apparently a fairly recent development. While the interjection cheers! seems to have sprung to life during the First World War, as a way of expressing enthusiasm, it wasn’t until 1976 that Times journalist Philip Howard made the observation:
cheers has become the colloquial synonym in British English for ‘thanks’.
1976 P. Howard in Times 5 August, p. 12
But our first real example comes from a special Christmas episode of the much-loved British sitcom, Only Fools and Horses, five years later in 1981:
Del. (Hands Grandad a twenty-pound note) There’s a score for yer, little Christmas pressie. Grandad. Oh cheers Del, very nice of you.
1981 J. Sullivan Only Fools & Horses (1999) I. p. 61
If it was noticed in the Times in 1976, we think it must have been in fairly common use for some time before that. Do you remember using or hearing cheers! to mean ‘thank you’ before the mid-1970s? Can you make all our Christmases come at once and find us an example of real usage from 1976 or before?
Posted by OED_Editor on 9 December 2016 16.33