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 kitchen

A kitchen is a room or area in a building in which food is prepared and cooked and which is kitted out with the equipment needed for this. First recorded as kuchene, the word developed from the Old English cycene and ultimately derives from the Latin coquere 'to cook'.

Hell’s kitchen is a place considered as highly disreputable or unpleasant. The name was applied to a neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City which used to be considered a haunt of criminals. It is thought that the name of the district came from the name of a gang of hoodlums that terrorized the district during the second half of the 19th century. The culinary reference and unpleasant associations led to the term being used as the title for a TV series featuring the acerbic chef Gordon Ramsay.  

The proverb if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen acts to advise someone who cannot cope with the pressure of a situation to remove themself from the position where it is necessary for them to deal with it. It often has the inference that you should leave the task in question to someone else who is able to cope with the pressure involved. The proverb was popularized by, if not actually coined by, Harry S. Truman who used very similar phrases to the modern day version both before and after becoming the 33rd President of the United States. In fact, he is quoted as giving ‘If you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen’ as his reason for deciding to retire from the Presidency.  

Everything but the kitchen sink means every possible item, especially with the inclusion of unlikely or unnecessary ones. Apparently it originated as forces slang during the Second World War to describe a heavy bombardment in which the enemy fired all they had available to them but with the exception of the kitchen sink.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s British novels, plays and films appeared using a more realistic and domestic depiction of working class life in place of the drawing room settings of middle-class theatre. These came to be known as kitchen-sink dramas.

A small kitchen or part of a room used as a kitchen is known as a kitchenette. First recorded in 1910, the word was later to be the inspiration for the term dinette.

Both pantry and larder describe a small room or large cupboard where food and drink are stored in a house. Both are also first recorded in the 14th century but their names originated relating to the storage of different, specific foods. Pantry comes from the Anglo-French panetrie from the Old French paneterie meaning somewhere bread was stored, itself from the Latin for bread, pānis which is also the origin of the French name for bread, pain, and of the word pannier which as the Latin panarium was a basket for bread. Larder comes from the Anglo-French larder 'a place for meats', itself from the Medieval Latin lardarium 'a room for meats', from the Latin for bacon, lard, lārdum which was the origin of the words lard (fat from a pig) and lardon (a strip of bacon used for larding a roast).

The need for a larder was reduced with the arrival of the refrigerator, a cabinet specifically designed to keep food cool. First recorded with this meaning early in the 19th century, the word itself dates back to 1611 with the meaning of 'something that cools'. It comes from the word refrigerate which with the meaning 'make cold' dates back to at least the 16th century, coming from the Latin refrīgerātus, past participle of refrīgerāre from re- 'again' + frīgerāre 'make cool'. The word frigid, meaning cold, has a related Latin origin. The use of refrigerate to mean 'to preserve by chilling' dates from the 1870s. Although refrigerators have replaced larders, the word is retained when we refer to a larder fridge, i.e. one which lacks a freezing compartment. Refrigerator is frequently shortened to fridge which is first recorded in 1935.

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Too many cooks