Eating Your Words

The fascinating origins of everyday culinary words and phrases

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Food glorious food!

Everything but the kitchen sink

Keep the pot boiling

Out of the frying pan

Salad days  

In the soup!

Cook one’s goose  

Give us a butchers!   

What a sauce!

A sandwich short of a picnic

Feeling groggy           

Just my cup of tea

Look to your laurels   

The spice of life      

In a nutshell   


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The meaning and origin of words and phrases related to the word gastronomy

The Greek’s word for stomach was gastēr, which was a word that would give rise to a number of food-related words. These include gastroenteritis (an inflammation of the lining of the stomach often caused by food poisoning) which you could suffer from as a result of eating a dodgy gastropod (a member of a class of mollusks that includes winkles, whelks and snails) so-called because they seem to move on their stomachs – gastēr stomach + podós foot. Gastēr + nómos meaning ‘arranging’ gave rise to the Greek gastronómos 'one who arranges food for the stomach' which in today’s language is familiar as the words gastronome (used for a person who is a connoisseur of fine food and wines) and gastronomy (the science or art of fine eating). In the 1990s the first part of the word gastronomy was borrowed and added to the word pub to create the word gastropub, used to describe a public house that serves high-quality food. First recorded in English in 1823, gastronome was borrowed into English from the French gastronome.

If you have gluttonous desires but you are unable to consume foods in the quantity craved, you may be said to have eyes bigger than your stomach. Anyone suffering with this problem asks for, or serves themself, more food than they can comfortably eat.  

Gourmet is another word for a connoissure of and expert on fine food or wine. First recorded in English as recently as 1820 the word was directly borrowed from the French gourmet, which evolved from the Old French gromet meaning 'a wine merchant's assistant’, ‘wine taster'.

Prior to the borrowing of gourmet and gastronome into English, the word in use in English for such a connoissure was an epicure. The word originated from the name of the Greek philosopher Epikouros (342?-270 B.C.) who is said to have taught (among other things) that pleasure was the highest good. However rather than refering to a gourmet, the word was originally used to describe someone who over-indulged in sensual pleasure, especially food. Late in the 16th century it also came to be used to mean a gourmet (a word which was not recorded in English until the 19th century) and this and the original hedonistic meaning of a glutton co-existed for some time before the current, more refined meaning became dominant. Today, the word is probably best known as the trade name of a particular brand of pickle.   

A modern take on the epicure is the foodie, who, in addition to having a deep appreciation of food itself, is also interested in the provenance and preparation of their food. The word foodie was formed in the style of other words to which the ie suffix has been added in order to indicate someone connected to something. Other examples include the words groupie, druggie, junkie, greenie, roadie and veggie. The term foodie is first recorded in 1980 and was used in the title of Ann Barr and Paul Levy’s The Official Foodie Handbook, published in 1984. The Official Foodie Handbook took a similar format to the earlier The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook by Ann Barr and Peter York which similarly popularized the term Sloane Ranger. However, unlike the expression sloane ranger, the word foodie has successfully outlived its original use as a term of mockery.

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