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 salad

Most often served cold and tossed with a dressing, a salad generally consists of a mixture of raw fruit and vegetables that have been sliced, chopped or grated. The commonest salad ingredients are lettuce, cucumber and tomato but a wide variety of other fruit and vegetables may be used as well as herbs, nuts, pasta or rice. The word salad comes from the Old French salade but ultimately derives from the Latin sal  meaning salt because salads developed from the popular Roman dish of vegetables seasoned with brine.  

The expression ‘salad days’ refers to the carefree, inexperienced days of one's youth. Used when reminiscing fondly on one’s younger days, the use of the word salad is figurative, with the meaning green, as in naïve. The expression is first recorded in Shakespeare's play Antony and Cleopatra (1623), in which Cleopatra says:

'My salad days,

When I was green in judgement, cold in blood'.


A lettuce is a plant with large, soft leaves used in salads. The word lettuce came into English via the Old French word laitue but ultimately derives from the Latin for lettuce, lactūca which remains the name of the genus to which lettuces belong. The word lactūca refers to the milky latex contained in the plant's sap in its stem as lac is Latin for milk – as in lactation (the act of suckling a baby), lactose (milk sugar) and lactic (from or of milk).

The cucumber is a long, cylindrical fruit that is most often eaten as a salad vegetable. Its name developed from its Latin name, cucumis. During the 17th and early 18th century they were often known as cowcumbers.  

Someone who is as cool as a cucumber remains calm in spite of facing a difficult situation. The term comes from the fact that the centre of a cucumber can be 20 degrees cooler than the air temperature. The expression is first known from a 1732 poem by John Gay: 'I ... cool as a cucumber could see The rest of womankind.'

The tomato is widely used raw in salads as well as cooked in numerous other dishes. Cherry and plum tomatoes are named after their similarity in size and shape to those other fruits. The name tomato is first recorded with the modern spelling in 1753 but dates back to 1604 as tomate. It is thought that the alteration in spelling was influenced by the word potato. The word is from the Spanish tomate, from the Nahuatl Indian name for a tomato, tomatl. In France they are known as pomme d'amour or 'apple of love' as they were credited with aphrodisiac properties and in the late 16th century this was translated into English as love-apple.

Eaten raw as part of a salad, radishes are the swollen roots of a member of the mustard family. Their name comes from the Old English rǣdic, itself  from the Latin rādīx meaning root.


Coleslaw is a type of salad, based on shredded cabbage, and containing a selection of other finely shredded vegetables such as carrots and onion, and perhaps fruits such as chopped apple and sultanas, held together in a generous helping of mayonnaise. It is most often served with quiches and cold meats. The word is first recorded in 1794 as cold slaw in American English, from the Dutch koolsla 'cabbage salad', kool from the Latin for cabbage caulis and sla a variant of salade from the French. The word cold was used as a result of folk etymology. The word was most often written as cold slaw until the 1860s when the spelling cole started to be used, probably because of an association with cole, a general name for plants belonging to the cabbage family and which also developed from the Latin caulis.  

A Caesar salad is made with cos (aka romaine) lettuce, fried croutons, parmesan cheese, sometimes chopped anchovies, dressed with olive oil, vinegar and coddled egg. This classic American recipe was invented by Caesar Cardini who, in the 1920s, began offering it on the menu of his restaurant in Tijuana in Mexico.

A waldorf salad is a salad of chopped apples, celery and walnuts or pecan nuts, dressed in mayonnaise and usually served as a side dish on a bed of lettuce. It gets its name from the fact that it was first served at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Continue to …

In the soup!