Slainté: meaning, pronunciation, and when to say it

Slainté! You’ve probably heard and used this ancient Irish word before. But are you sure you know what it means? Check out our guide to its meaning, pronunciation, and when to use it.

Slainte meaning, pronunciation, and when to say it.

If you’ve ever popped into a pub in Ireland, Scotland, or North America, you might have heard a strange toast being uttered by those raising glasses.

“Slainté”, an Irish word roughly equivalent to the English word “Cheers”, appears to be increasingly in vogue across bars in the United States and Canada. But what does it really mean, and when is it appropriate to say it?

Read on to get up to speed and ensure you’re using it correctly.

Meaning of Slainte– the origins of the word

Slainte sign outside a U.S. bar.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Slaintѐ is a phrase used across the world, but particularly in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and North America. It is usually used interchangeably with the word “Cheers” as a toast when drinking.

Whichever way you choose to incorporate this traditional Irish phrase into your life, it certainly pays to know what exactly it is your saying!

If we’re going to look into it in more depth, the word “Slainté” is an abstract noun derived from the Old Irish adjective “slán”, which means “whole” or “healthy”.

Coupled with the Old Irish suffix “tu”, it becomes “slántu”, meaning “health”. Throughout the ages, the word evolved and eventually became the Middle Irish “sláinte”.

The Irish are known for their famous and often poetic blessings, and this word is no different. The root “slán” also means “advantageous”, and is linked to words like the German “selig” (“blessed”) and the Latin “salus” (“health”). The word is used as a toast to a companion’s good health and fortune.

Pronunciation – are you saying it correctly?

Slainte is often used in the place of "cheers".

People often struggle with the pronunciation of this one. The correct pronunciation is [SLAHN-chə], with a silent ‘t’. If you’re saying it right, it’ll sound like “slawn-che”.

If you want to spruce it up even more, you can adjust it to mean “health and wealth” (“slaintѐ is taintѐ”). To bestow even more blessing upon your loved ones, pronounce this as “slawn-che iss toin-che”.

Where it is from – is Slainté Irish or Scottish?

Slainte derives from Gaelic.
Credit: Flickr / Jay Galvin

This is where things can get controversial. While both Ireland and Scotland have made claims upon the word, the truth is that it is both Irish and Scottish.

As the word has its roots in Gaelic, it exists across both countries and does not differ in meaning nor pronunciation.

Context and variations – when to use the phrase

There are many options of when to use the phrase. Slainte
Credit: Flickr / Colm MacCárthaigh

As with many Gaelic terms, the meaning of this one has gotten lost to some over the years. Many use the phrase as a way of saying “goodbye”.

Of course, the beauty of language is that words and their meanings naturally evolve over time. But there is something to be said for preserving some words and phrases from our past.

The phrase is traditionally used in a celebratory setting as a way to wish good things upon your guests and loved ones. This is usually accompanied by the raising of glasses.

Although less well known outside of Ireland and Scotland, the phrase can be followed by the response “slaintѐ agad-sa”, which means “health at yourself”.

Aside from Slainte, the Irish have other ways to give blessings in this context. You can also say “slaintѐ chugat” as well, pronounced as “hoo-ut”.  

In the past, the phrase was also adjusted to “Sláinte na bhfear” (“Good health to the men”), which was used when drinking in the company of men. In the presence of women, the saying was adjusted to become “Sláinte na mbean.”

People who use the phrase as a way to say goodbye aren’t too far wrong. Another related expression is “Go dte tú slán,” or “May you go safely” in English, which is said when someone is leaving on a journey.

Okay, bear with us on this one. But if you’re in a particularly large group of people during a toast, you can also say “Sláintѐ na bhfear agus go maire na mná go deo!”. This phrase loosely translates as “Health to the men and may the women live forever”, and is pronounced “slawn-cha na var agus guh mara na m-naw guh djeo.”

Or you know, you could just keep it nice and simple with “Slainté”.

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Born in County Down, Lewis Sloan is a writer who has a passion for Irish travel and history. While studying toward a Master's in English Literary Studies at Queen's University Belfast, he held the role of Features Editor for The Gown, Belfast's largest independent student newspaper. When not writing, he can be found practicing yoga or petting every cat he meets on the street.