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 sardines

In the UK sardines are young pilchards most often sold tinned, in oil. However, elsewhere in the world, fish of a number of species of the herring family, the Clupeidae, may be called by this name. Entering English as sardyn, the word sardine was borrowed from the Middle French sardine. The name has been traced back (via the Italian sardine and the Latin sardīna) to the Greek sardinē which itself may be from the Greek Sardo the Greek name for the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean sea off which they may have been caught before being exported.

Packed like sardines means crowded close together. The expression is first recorded in 1911 in the letters of the war poet Wilfred Owen (1893-1918): ‘The entrance hall… where for half an hour the boys stand waiting packed like sardines.’ The phrase originates from the fact that sardines are most often packaged tinned, packed so closely together that they are squashed against one another. The same meaning gave rise to the name of the children's party game sardines that involves participants being squashed together in a confined space.

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