As mentioned previously, my dad has an important birthday today, for which we had a big party on the 30th. We needed a theme for this party that would suit my dad and that his friends and family would enjoy, so I suggested that we roast him. Better Half protested that he couldn't possibly take part, due to his vegetarianism, which is how I reali{s/z}ed that the roast tradition is an American thing. Since I'm beginning this entry on the morning after the night before, I'll let Wikipedia do the explanation for me:
A roast, in North American English, is an event in which an individual is subject to publicly bearing insults, praise, outlandish true and untrue stories, and heartwarming tributes. It is seen as a great honor to be roasted, as the individual is surrounded by friends, fans, and well-wishers, who can receive some of the same treatment as well during the course of the evening. The party and presentation itself are both referred to as a roast. The host of the event is called the roastmaster. [...] In short, it is both the opposite and the same as a "toast".
The Friars Club, a (AmE) fraternal organization for comedians, is known for its roasts, but people of my generation are likely to know about them because of Dean Martin's Celebrity Roasts on television in the 1970s. Because I remembered my dad enjoying those when I was a child, a roast for Dad seemed like a great idea--and it was. I must say, my family and their friends are some pretty hilarious folk. But the break-out star roaster was our own Better Half, who discovered that my dad shares his birthday with great Americans Paul Revere and Betsy Ross. So BH riffed (orig. AmE) on the theme of "what if it had been our birthday boy who had been called on to warn that the British were coming or to sew the first American flag?" It was abso-effing-lutely riotous.

The roastee sits on the stage while he is being roasted, and we had a huge throne for Dad to sit in (right). At the end of the roasting, there is some toasting of the roastee, after which the roastee has the opportunity for a rebuttal--which is done with the same type of humo(u)r as the roasting. You might be able to see in the photo that dad has paper and pen at the ready to make notes of jokes he'll want to make at the roasters' expense.

Also in this picture you get a view of BH's shoulder. I've got too much of a headache for any serious cropping action today.

So, Happy New Year to you, and

Happy 70th Birthday, Dad!


  1. I might also point out a rather more recent (and less pleasant) meaning of roast, brought to prominence by the alleged antics of certain footballers. See e.g. exhibit a or exhibit b .

  2. The dictionary of English slang ( describes roasting thus:

    Noun. Sexual intercourse between at least two males and a female, although it could in theory involve all males, in what may have traditionally being called an orgy. Probably an abb. of spit roasting. See spit roast


  3. So, definitely an area of possible miscommunication between BrE and AmE speakers!

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  5. Hi Lynneguist, am enjoying your blog!
    This is my first post and i am a bit nervous at taking part as i am not a linguist... :-)

    to me (as a Brit) if someone said 'my boss gave me a real roasting yesterday' it would mean he was told off/disciplined. it would definitely only have a negative connotation. it is a phrase i hear/use quite often.
    eg 'look out or you'll be in for a roasting!'

    i enjoyed hearing about US roastings! sounds fun. Congratulations to your Dad.

  6. Thanks, Christine.

    That negative sense of roasting would be understood in the US too--in fact, it's what the idea of a comedy roast is based on. A roasting, then a toasting.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)