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 stoves

If you are working very hard on the preparation of a meal, you may be said to be slaving over a hot stove. The phrase is also used in an extended form as a form of reproach, i.e. ‘here I am, slaving over a hot stove all day while all you do is …..’ (e.g. sit at a desk). These days the phrase is frequently used in jest by those who in reality only rarely prepare a meal. Almost the same phrase was used as the caption to a cartoon by American cartoonist Art Young from around 1911: ‘Here am I, standin’ over a hot stove all day, and you workin’ in a nice, cool sewer!’.  

The word stove originally meant a room filled with steam to sweat in. The word arrived in English in the 15th century, borrowed from the Middle Low German or Middle Dutch stove 'heated room'. During the 16th century it was applied to the furnace responsible for heating these rooms and from there to the current meaning of an appliance used for cooking food. These days the word stove has fallen into comparative disuse with ‘cooker’ being the commoner term.

During the 1990s a new cooker-based term started to be used to describe novels based around the emotional lives of middle-class characters. Aga-sagas referred to the domestic basis of the stories together with the association of Aga cookers with middle-class Britain. Widely associated with farmhouse kitchens, AGA cookers were invented by the Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr Gustaf Dalén. Their name is an abbreviation of the company name Aktiebolaget Gas Accumulator.

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A recipe for success