Eating Your Words

The fascinating origins of everyday culinary words and phrases

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via e-mail

All content on Eating Your Words is copyright © Alvin Scott 2013-2016. All rights reserved.

Links to this page may be made without asking permission.


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   


View on a mobile


The meaning and origin of words and phrases related to herrings

A herring is a sea-fish that is eaten both cooked from fresh and cured. Its name comes from the Old English hēring or hǽring although its ultimate derivation is uncertain. However, one suggestion is that it is from the Old English for grey hār because of their silvery-grey colour. Hār is also the origin of the word hoary and hoarfrost. Altermatively, it may be from the Old High German hęri  meaning multitude, from the large numbers in which they live.


A red herring means something that diverts attention (quite often intentionally) away from that which should be receiving interest. The term is especially used to refer to a misdirection in a murder novel. Dating back to the nineteenth century, the expression relates to strong-smelling red herrings which are herrings that have been heavily smoked until they have turned red in colour. They are not often sold in Britain and so are most familiar from this popular expression. In medieval times they were used to lay down a scent trail to train hounds to follow a scent. The expression is said to originate from fugitives using them to lay a false trail in order to distract pursuing bloodhounds.

Herring-bone is a distinctive pattern used in textiles, flooring and brickwork that consists of two or more rows of short parallel lines that slant in alternate directions, forming a series of parallel Vs or zigzags. The pattern is so-called because it resembles the bone arrangement in a herring.

Continue to …

A sprat to catch a mackerel