River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Food We Speak

February 2005

The origins of many common food related expressions

The English Language is seasoned with words and phrases, idioms and expressions that owe their origins to the various places where food and drink is prepared and enjoyed. Here are some of our most common expressions derived from this source!

Apple-Pie bed

This expression may owe more to a French turn of phrase than cooking apples. Making an 'apple-pie' bed is a practical joke in which the sheets are folded in such a way that it is impossible for anyone to get their legs down under the blankets. This may be derived from the French term nappe pliee, which means 'folded sheet' or 'folded cloth'.

Bakers Knee

This is another term for knock knee, the shape of the legs in which the knees bend inwards and knock together when walking. Popular belief held that bakers were especially prone to becoming knock-kneed, because of the position in which they had to stand for long periods while kneading dough.

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

The automation of modern baking which produces millions of identical loaves of bread was regarded as a major advance in food production by both producers and consumers. The fact that these could be bought already sliced was thought an added bonus as it removed a boring chore. The US armed forces have been credited with coining the phrase 'the best thing since sliced bread' as a phrase of universal approval, which became widely used in the second half of the twentieth century.

Gone to pot

In earlier times it was common to keep a pot over the fire into which left-overs were put to be cooked and served up as a stew or broth. Pieces of meat and vegetables that could not be used in any other dish ended up in the pot and this practice gave rise to 'gone to pot' meaning 'ruined' or 'no longer of use'.

Living high off the hog

The choicest cuts of meat on a pig are found in the upper part of the carcass and in this expression the reference is to 'eating sumptuously' and therefore 'enjoying considerable affluence', by dining on only the best joints of an animal which at one time was the principle source of meat for most of the population.

Selling like hot cakes

In America 'pancakes' have been called 'hot cakes' for over 300 years. As a popular feature of the American diet, 'hot cakes' are cooked and sold at many social gatherings and such is the demand for them that they are often sold as soon as they are cooked. So anything which 'sells like hot cakes' sells immediately it goes on sale, resulting in a commercial triumph.

Storm in a teacup

This is another use of hyperbole to point up the absurdity of a situation. At the risk of stating the obvious, a genteel cup of tea is not the place in which to find a 'storm'. However, the very circumstances in which tea is drunk from teacups, imply that even slight deviations from the accepted code of conduct and conversation can cause ructions completely out of proportion to the real nature of any 'offence'. A 'storm in a teacup', therefore, is a 'great fuss made about something of no consequence'.

Extracted from "A Fish out of Water".

The Editor

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