Here’s where your favorite food idioms came from
We’re spilling the beans
Jan 22, 2018
Have you ever wondered why idiomatic expressions like “piece of cake” and “don’t cry over spilled milk” exist? And more importantly, why they use food?
We thought it’d be fun to dig up the origins of these remarks so we’d have a better grasp of the words we use every day. And hey, it never hurts to learn something new, right?
The apple of my eye
What it means: a person (or a thing) you’re extremely fond of
Robert Palmatier, author of Food: A Dictionary of Literal and Nonliteral Terms, said that the Old English term for apple referred both to that of the fruit and the eyeball, which was called the ‘fruit’ of the eye. When someone calls you the “apple of their eye,” it means that you’re adored like the precious organ which allows you to see.
What it means: false, unauthentic
Back in the 1940s, the phrase “say cheese” was a formula when it comes to taking pictures. Former ambassador and author Joseph E. Davies said that using the word cheese can guarantee you’ll look pleasant no matter what’s in your head. It’s because the “ch” and “ee” forces one to expose their teeth, like how you would when you’re genuinely smiling. Since then, jokes and pick-up lines are tagged as ‘cheesy’ for the same unauthentic reasons.
What it means: youthful inexperience
You’d be surprised, but this expression actually came from literary genius Shakespeare himself. In the tragedy Anthony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra reminisces her “salad days, when I was green in judgment; cold in blood.”
Piece of cake/Cakewalk
What it means: easy
We all know that saying something is a “piece of cake” or a “cakewalk” means that it’s simple and easy. This phrase originated in the mid-19th century when cakes were seen as prizes. There used to be a tradition in the U.S. slavery states where slaves would come together in a circle during a gathering. Those who had the most ‘graceful’ walk wins the cake in the middle.
Don’t cry over spilled milk
What it means: not spending your time being upset about something beyond your control
This idiom has been around since the 1600s and most likely came from European folklore. According to accounts of old tales, fairies were very fond of milk that they would drink up any spill left behind. It sounds fascinating but has been left unverified.
Cool as a cucumber
What it means: remaining calm in any situation
Did you know that cucumbers can keep their internal temperature 20 degrees cooler than their environment? So when it’s a bit hot outside, cucumbers remain cool. Literally. If you’re someone who can keep their cool in times of stress or pressure, then you might say that you’re cool as a cucumber.
Spill the beans
What it means: tell a secret
In ancient Greece, the Greeks and their secret societies can vote you into their clubs by putting either a white bean or black bean in a jar (white means yes, black means no). In the unfortunate event that the jar drops during the election, it reveals the results prematurely.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash
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