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 seafood

Also spelt caviar, caviare is the salted roe (i.e. eggs) of fish of the sturgeon family. First recorded in the 16th century, the word was borrowed from the French caviar, from the Turkish khāvyār, from Iranian meaning 'bearer of eggs'.

The expression caviar to the general refers to something good that is unappreciated by ignorant folk. It comes from Shakespeare's Hamlet in which Hamlet states 'the play, I remember, pleased not the million; 'twas caviar to the general'. The general in this case was the general public who would not appreciate such an unfamiliar delicacy. The phrase has nothing to do with the military rank.

Calamari is the name by which squid appears under on a restaurant menu, i.e. when it is prepared to be eaten. The plural of the Italian word for squid, calamaro, the word ultimately derives from the Greek kalamos meaning pen in reference to the shape of the squid’s internal shell and maybe to the fact that they squirt a black fluid known as ‘ink’.  

Salmon are large fish with fine-flavoured flesh. From the French saumon, itself from the Latin salmō 'salmon', thought to be from salīre meaning ‘to leap’ as salmon have a habit of leaping out of the water as a means of navigating over obstacles in a river. The colour of their flesh gave rise to the colour salmon pink.

A dish containing both seafood and meat – particularly one using shellfish and steak - is known as surf-and-turf. This imaginative name is a reference to the bounty of the sea and to the grasslands on which cattle are raised. The term is first recorded used in the Los Angeles Times in 1961.  

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The holy flatfish