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 goose-related words and phrases

The word goose comes from the Old English for goose, gōs, which, with the addition of the suffix –ling,  meaning ‘young’, also became the word gosling, the name for a young goose. Although male geese are called ganders, for culinary purposes both sexes are referred to as 'goose'. Before turkeys become affordable to the masses, a goose was the traditional Christmas bird. Geese feature in a number of sayings:

To cook one’s goose means to ruin one’s plans or chances of success. Dating back to the mid 19th century, this expression is thought to relate to the practise of fattening a goose ready for it to be the centrepiece of a celebratory meal. Therefore cooking someone's goose prematurely would spoil their plan.

To kill the goose that lays the golden eggs is a not dissimilar expression. Meaning to ruin a long-term source of income (through a desire for immediate profit) it comes from an Aesop fable of a peasant whose goose laid golden eggs. In his greed for instant wealth he kills the goose expecting to obtain a lot of gold straight away but only ruins his future supply.

Goose pimples are the raised dermal papillae (nipple-like structures) at the base of hair follicles on human skin that are triggered by cold, fear or excitement. First used to describe the pimply flesh of a goose, the phrase is first recorded with this meaning in 1914. The alternative term goose bumps is known since the 1930s.   

The proverb what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander uses the two sexes of goose to stand for women and men and means ‘what is acceptable for one sex is equally acceptable for the other’. It is first recorded in 1670 by the English naturalist John Ray (1627-1705) in his published work on English proverbs. In it, he remarked that ‘This is a woman's Proverb’ and it is true to this day that it is most often used by women about the behaviour of men. The proverb is presumed to derive from the fact that the same sauce is suitable to be served with either sex of goose.   


The slang expression take a gander means to take a look is first recorded in 1887. It derived from the idea of someone craning their neck to see, in the manner of a goose.

A foolish undertaking that will prove fruitless is known as a wild goose chase. This expression dates back to the 16th century and an equestrian sport in which riders had to accurately follow the path of the leading horse at defined intervals, in the erratic manner of a skeine of wild geese. It was then used figuratively to mean following an erratic course, whether following someone else’s or one’s own inclinations. Shakespeare used it in this sense in Romeo and Juliet (1597) ‘Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five’. Only later, once its origin meaning had been forgotten, the phrase started to be used in its modern sense of a quest as foolish and hopeless as trying to catch a wild goose by chasing it.  

Dating back to the 17th century, wouldn't say boo to a goose is said of someone who is painfully shy and lacks the confidence to stand up for themself.

Turn geese into swans means to exaggerate. Similarly, all (someone’s) geese are swans refers to someone who routinely exaggerates the merits of things or people that are, in truth, unremarkable. Both expressions originate from the notion that swans are more elegant and distinguished than geese.

To shoe the goose means to waste time on an unnecessary or trivial task.

Continue to …

A chicken and egg situation