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 oysters

Oysters are marine bivalve mollusks with a fleshy body contained in a hinged shell. Their name is from the Old French oistre, itself from the Latin for oyster, ostrea. Ultimately, the word is from the Greek óstreon which is related to óstrakon, meaning 'hard shell', and to ostéon which means 'bone' and is also the origin of the word osteopath.

Shelling oysters is referred to as shucking - a term which transferred from its meaning of removing the covering – or shucks - from corn seeds. The word is from the noun shuck 'husk, shell, pod'. The American interjection 'shucks' used to express disappointment or irritation comes from the fact that shucks are worthless.

The world is your oyster means that you are able to take any of the opportunities in life that are available to you. It originates as a reference to the possibility that you may find a pearl upon opening an oyster. The phrase dates from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor in which Pistol states to Falstaff ‘Why, then the world’s mine oyster, Which I with sword will open’. The word oyster is also applied to a piece of meat from the hollow of the pelvic bone of a fowl. Most especially applied to such a piece of meat from a chicken, they are so-called because their shape is similar to that of an oyster.

Oysters are perhaps the best-known food considered to be an aphrodisiac i.e. something that induces sexual desire. However, whilst it is known that eating certain foods can improve our mood, no food has been scientifically proven to chemically act as an aphrodisiac. The closest that comes to it is alcohol but this leads to sexual excitation through a reduction in inhibition rather than an increase in desire. A number of foods were considered aphrodisiacs as a result of their similarity to human genitalia, e.g. the phallic shape of bananas, carrots and asparagus, the similarity of avocadoes to testicles and the similarity of oysters and figs to female genitals. First recorded early in the 18th century, the word was borrowed from the Greek aphrodīsiakós 'sexual', 'inducing sexual desire'. The word itself comes from Aphroditē, Aphrodite, the name of the ancient Greeks’ goddess of sexual love.

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