8 Food Idioms That Are Right Under Your Nose
The term in a nutshell refers to a short description, or a story told in no more words than can physically fit in the shell of a nut. But the origin of the term tests those limits with the most longwinded of tales. The ancient Roman encyclopaedist Pliny the Elder claimed that a copy of Homer's The Iliad existed that was small enough to fit inside a walnut shell. Almost 2000 years later in the early 1700s the Bishop of Avranches tested Pliny's theory by writing out the epic in tiny handwriting on a walnut-sized piece of paper and lo and behold, he did it!
English speakers have been using the word "spill" to mean "divulge secret information" since 1547, but the spilling of beans in particular may predate the term by millennia. Many historians claim that secret societies in ancient Greece voted by dropping black or white beans into a clay urn. To spill those beans would be to reveal the results of a secret vote before the ballots had been counted. Kidney he lives, pinto he dies!
As many of us know from experience, it is not so easy to make a pie. A buttery crust can fall apart in the deftest of hands and around Thanksgiving many pumpkin "pies" might be more accurately deemed pumpkin "soups." On the other hand (or for our purposes) anyone can become an expert at eating a pie. Popularized in the U.S. in the late 1800s, the most notable use of pie to mean "simple and pleasurable" appears in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Part of our next food idiom makes a home in many pies, especially in America.
Apples and oranges refers to two incommensurable items, i.e. a comparison of things that cannot be compared. Though they are both fruits, apples and oranges are separated by color, taste, juiciness and 89.2 million years of evolution. The idiom first appeared as apples and oysters in John Ray's 1670 Proverb collection, and equivalent terms exist in many languages: "grandmothers and toads" in Serbian to "love and the eye of an axe" in Argentine Spanish. What other funny fruits turn unusual phrases?
Not only does going bananas mean "to go crazy," the term can point to things for which you've gone bananas, or obsessions. According to lexicographer E.J. Lighter, going bananas refers to the term going ape often used in American popular culture in the second half of the 1900s. Apes were seen as crazy by the mid-century media, and what do apes eat? Bananas! For example, here at Dictionary.com, we're bananas for grammar but we go bananas when people end sentences with prepositions.
Though English is spoken all over the world, there are certain idioms that recall its, well, Englishness. Popularized in British Edwardian slang, cup of tea originally referred to something pleasant or agreeable. The negative usage as in not my cup of tea arose during World War II as a more polite way to say you didn't like something. "You don't say someone gives you a pain in the neck," explained Alistair Cooke in his 1944 Letter from America. You just remark, he's not my cup of tea.'"
Perhaps the savoriest idiom on this list, the word cheese can refer to a person or thing that is important or splendid as well as to the delicious dairy product. The usage is thought to have origins in Urdu, from the Persian chiz meaning "thing." In common usage, "the big cheese" is a person of importance or authority, and cheese is often associated with smiling, based on the "say cheese" method of posing for pictures.
Our final idiom is our most delicate: walking on eggshells or taking great care not to upset someone. It is thought to have originated in politics when diplomats were described as having the remarkable ability to tread so lightly around difficult situations, it was as though they were walking on eggshells. In a nutshell, we hope you go bananas for food idioms. Whether or not they're your cup of tea, these terms are easy as pie to use and they'll make you the big cheese of any conversation! So go ahead and spill the beans, it's just like apples and oranges.
Love our Slideshows?
Sign up for our weekly
Slideshow Snapshot email!
Slideshow Snapshot email!