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The Meaning Behind Common Food Phrases

Wed, Jan 04, 2017 at 10:10AM

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It’s all gravy here!

Butter me up.

Take it with a grain of salt.

You’ve likely used one or two of these food-centric phrases (in addition to many more!). While these sayings have made their way into popular American vernacular, their origins—when closely analyzed—might become less than clear.

In today’s blog, we will be sharing the sometimes surprising origins of these common sayings. Take a look below to find the roots of your own favorite phrase!

To butter someone up

This common phrase—which means to compliment or play nice with someone to get your way—might have its origins in the application of butter itself. Butter is often generously spread over food, much like you generously spread about the compliments when you butter someone up.

It’s all gravy

Is everything great? You might say that it’s all gravy—but why?

This fun phrase stems from a traditional English saying that compared life itself to meat and potatoes, while the luxuries were gravy. If “it’s all gravy” to you, you’re probably enjoying life and its little luxuries.

A watched pot never boils

You’ve probably heard and said this common expression a fair amount of times. It means to convey the importance of patience without focusing too heavily on the thing being waited on (a pot of water, a seemingly immobile clock, your phone as you wait for an important message, etc.). While we can’t find a conclusive origin for this phrase, it’s easy to imagine why it started. After all, every home cook knows how agonizing the wait for water to heat up can be!

Cool as a cucumber

If you’re cool as a cucumber, you’re probably pretty calm! If you ever work with cucumbers, you’ll know how full of water they are. That water keeps the cucumber cool despite exterior heat.

To egg someone on

This common food phase doesn’t actually have its roots in the egg itself, but in a similar-sounding word: edge. Both words come from the Old Norse language, and share a similar meaning, which is to push someone ahead or toward a limit.

Bread and butter

This phrase (which refers to someone’s livelihood or career) likely stems from the ubiquitous nature of bread and butter on the dinner table. Just like your career is the thing you know best, bread and butter is perhaps the staple most familiar at the dinner table—you can’t live without it!

Did any of these statements surprise you? As is often the case, the roots of common sayings tend to wear away over time, while the commonplace definitions often stick. In any case, we’re always happy to learn a bit more about the things we do and say every day!

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