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

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21. Take with a grain of salt
> Meaning: Treat something skeptically or not literally

Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder included “a grain of salt” in his recipe for an antidote to poison, and this might have been the origin of the phrase. Another explanation is that since “salis” means both “salt” and “wit” in Latin, the original meaning might have been “don’t take it seriously.”

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22. Take the cake
> Meaning: Win the prize or be an extreme or definitive example of something

The ancient Greeks used “cake” as a synonym for “award” or “honor,” but the usage doesn’t seem to have appeared in English until the 19th century. The phrase may have been inspired by the African-American “cakewalk” dance competitions of the latter 1800s, in which couples competed for the prize of an elaborate cake.

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23. Talk turkey
> Meaning: Get down to business, have a serious discussion

A story first recounted in 1824 holds that an Indian and a white man, who had spent the day hunting together but bagged only one wild turkey and one crow or buzzard between them, were discussing how to divide the birds. The white man offered the Indian only the crow, and the latter man complained “You no talk turkey to me.” Scholars usually dismiss this tale as apocryphal, but offer no alternative etymology.

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24. The whole enchilada
> Meaning: The whole thing, everything

This expression dates from the 1960s and comes from California — not surprisingly, considering the state’s profusion of Mexican restaurants. The sense isn’t clear, since enchiladas aren’t usually very big. A related phrase is “the big enchilada,” meaning the boss or most important person.”

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25. The world is my oyster
> Meaning: Riches await me, I can have anything I want

Shakespeare again. Falstaff’s acolyte Pistol, in “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” declares “[T]he world’s mine oyster, which I with sword will open.” This is a reference to the possibility of finding a valuable pearl inside the bivalve.

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