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

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11. In a pickle
> Meaning: In a difficult or unpleasant situation

This one dates back at least to Shakespeare’s time. The Bard has Trinculo, in “The Tempest,” say, “I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last.” In that era, pickles were an assortment of stewed vegetables preserved in vinegar, and thus a metaphor for a piquant mess.

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12. Not for all the tea in China
> Meaning: Not for anything

Dating from the 1890s and apparently Australian in origin, this phrase is a reference to the fact that China produces an immense amount of tea — 2.4 million tons of it, according to the most recent figures available — a very valuable commodity.

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13. Other [bigger] fish to fry
> Meaning: Something more important or pressing to do

“The Oxford English Dictionary” traces this expression to 1660. Nobody knows where it sprang from, but it seems possible that its origins were in the kitchen.

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14. Pie in the sky
> Meaning: A fantasy or pipe dream, a heavenly reward

This phrase was coined by Swedish-born American labor organizer and political songwriter Joe Hill. It comes from his 1911 composition, “The Preacher and the Slave,” which mocks the promises made to exploited workers. The pertinent passage goes, “Work and pray, live on hay / You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”

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15. Piece of cake
> Meaning: Something effortless or easy

American comic poet Ogden Nash used this phrase in a piece of verse from 1936, though it’s probably older. The sense is probably that eating a piece of cake is an easy task. A related phrase is “easy as pie.”

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