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 the word beef

The flesh of adult domestic cattle, intended for consumption is known as beef. The size and strength of cattle has resulted in its use in words such as beefy (muscular), beefcake (a muscle man), beefeater (a Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London), whilst “beef up” means means to add strength to something. The word derives from the Old French boef, meaning beef, ox, from the Latin bos, meaning ox. Bos is also the origin of the adjective bovine used to describe something relating to an ox or cow.

The colloquialism beef up means adding strength to something. Hence a beef tomato is a particularly large variety of tomato.

Beefcake photographs are photographs of muscle-men with little on, celebrating brawn above brains. First recorded in 1949, the term comes from a humorous analogy with the female pin-up cheesecake photograph.

Beefeater was a derogatory term for a well-fed domestic servant before, in the 17th century, it was applied as a nickname to the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London.    

Corned beef is tinned cooked beef that has been soaked in brine. It is serve cold with salads or used in hot dishes. The ‘corns’ from which it gets its name were coarse grains of salt, originally used to make up the brine in which it is cured. During the First World War troops referred to it as Bully or Bully Beef and in England it is still a popular name for it today. The expression came from the French word for boiled, boulli.  

Veal is meat from a young calf. Because the animal is so young, its meat is very lean, tender and pale compared to that from an older animal and has not developed the flavour associated with beef. The word is first recorded around the end of the 14th century in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It is from the Anglo-French vel, itself from the Old French veel 'a calf', ultimately from the Latin for calf, vitulus.

Sirloin is a fine cut of beef taken from between the rump and the ribs of an animal’s carcass. As well as providing sirloin steaks, the cut provides porterhouse and T-bone steaks. The word entered English as ‘surloyne’, and came from the Middle/Old French *surloigne a variation on the word surlonge, which came from sur 'above' + longe 'loin' from the Old French loigne which is the origin of the word loin. The word loin comes from the Old French loigne which is derived from the Latin for loin, lumbus which is also the origin of the words lumbar (‘of, or situated in, the loin) and lumbago (a rheumatic affection in the lumbar region).

Thus sirloin was so-called because it was the upper part of the loin. The sir- spelling appeared in 17th century and is often said to have taken over as the result of a fictitious account of how the cut was 'knighted' by a king of England - Henry VIII, James I or Charles II according to different accounts - in recognition of its superiority. However, these accounts are dismissed as fictitious by most experts. longe 'loin'

A porterhouse steak is a choice steak cut from a piece of sirloin. This steak gets its name from the fact that it gained popularity served in porterhouses, i.e. eateries where porter was served. First recorded in the 1840s in American English, the steak is frequently said to have been named after a particular porterhouse establishment in New York that popularised the cut.

One of the best known beef dishes is beef stroganoff which is made from thin strips of beef which are fried before being covered in a sour cream sauce, flavoured with mushrooms and onion. The dish is Russian in origin and is named after the Russian diplomat Count Paul Stroganov (died 1817).

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