My wife just mentioned to our year-old grandson (who took the news with equanimity) that a coaster had fallen off the table. It suddenly occurred to me to wonder why a small object placed under a glass is called a “coaster,” so I turned to the OED, where I found: “So called from ‘coasting’ or making the circuit of the table after dinner.” This makes sense because it used to mean “a low round tray or stand for a decanter,” so when you passed the port you were actually passing the tray it stood on. I love it when there are good answers to interesting questions.


  1. Crown, A.J.P. says

    It’s possible to confuse coasters with casters. A friend of mine asked me to design a dining table that could be moved around easily — he kept saying he wanted it on coasters. It took me a while before I spotted his mistake, too.

  2. Although the OED doesn’t say so, and I should therefore be careful with assumptions, it seems likely that passing the decanter of Port might have been involved with the coasting.
    In Peterhouse, Cambridge, the Port led to even more elaborate inventiveness. To keep the Dons’ warm while dining a semicircular table was made so that they could form an arc around the fire. This created a problem however as the Port would come to dead end as it was (is) passed strictly to the left only. The solution was a little wheeled carriage, to sit the decanter in, and a tipping track which allowed the decanter to roll back, across the fireplace to start its journey again from the beginning of the semicircle. It is all still there. Perhaps it is not the only example.

  3. There you are. Coasters on casters.

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