Talking Turkey, Cutting the Mustard, and 25 Other Food Phrases

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Since food is such an essential part of everybody’s life, it’s hardly surprising that over the centuries people have come up with many phrases, idioms, and metaphors that invoke food to make a point.

Americans are hardly alone in this. Food expressions probably exist in every language, and likely have for as long as people have been cooking. The French, to whom food is an obsession, have scores of them. One example: When they want to say that a man is particularly sensitive, they might propose that “Il a la coeur d’artichaut” — “He has the heart of an artichoke.”

A Spaniard might tell you to “get lost” by inviting you to “¡Vete a freír a espárragos!” — “Go fry asparagus!” When somebody’s life is going really well in Russia, he or she might claim to be “kak v masle syr,” meaning “like cheese in butter.” Even American Sign Language has food phrases: The gestures for “fish” and “swallow,” for instance, can translate to “You’re so gullible!”

The 25 food phrases here, from “apple-pie order” to “the world is my oyster,” are just a fraction of the culinary expressions we use — or used to use — in English. Among the others: “apple of my eye,” “thick as pea soup,” “have your cake and eat it too,” “cool as a cucumber,” “nutty as a fruitcake,” “that’s the way the cookie crumbles,” and “his goose is cooked.”

Some of our food phrases are American in origin. Others are British, or even Australian. Some were coined by Shakespeare; others are 20th-century slang. They’re all colorful and useful for various situations and often just plain delicious.

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