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 sausages

Sausages are made from meat finely chopped or minced, usually with added fat and a cereal-based filler (e.g. rusk which is generally crumbed unleavened wheatflour biscuits). This mixture is then seasoned and was originally stuffed into a cleaned length of intestine from a pig or sheep. However, these days the casings are usually synthetic, made from cellulose. The word sausage is first recorded in English in the 15th century as sawsyge which came from the Old North French saussiche. Ultimately the name derives from the Latin salsus 'salted' which relates to the fact that sausages were frequently salted to preserve them. The modern spelling of sausage is first recorded in 1553 and is thought to have been influenced by the suffix -age which was used for things that were the result of an action , "in this case" the verb 'to salt'.

Sausages are known colloquially as bangers. When they are served together with mashed potato they form part of the classic English dish of bangers ‘n’ mash. Presumably the term comes from the bangs that they make whilst frying. The first recorded use of the term was as recent as 1919.

The colloquial term not a sausage meaning ‘nothing at all’ is first known from the 1930s whilst silly old sausage, a kind-hearted rebuke delivered to someone who has just done something stupid, dates back to the first half of the 20th century.

The phrase ‘Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made’ (and similar variations) has often been credited to the German Prussian politician Otto von Bismarck (1815 - 1898) but according to Fred R. Shapiro writing in The New York Times in 2008 it only became associated with him during the 1930s and he cites The Daily Cleveland Herald, from 1869, quoting the American poet John Godfrey Saxe as having said that “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made”. The saying refers to the idea that if you were to witness the process of how some things are produced, unpleasant truths might be revealed that might put you off them.

The term sausage-shaped is used for any object shaped like a sausage. An extension of this is the so-called sausage dog which is a colloquial term for a dachshund and comes from the breed’s long, thin sausage-like shape rather than indicating that the breed has a liking for sausages. The posh term for sausage-shaped is botuliform which came from the Latin for sausage, botulus. Botulus is the origin of the words bowels and botulism (a particularly deadly form of food poisoning). Botulism was so-called because contaminated sausages were strongly associated with the disease and the bacteria that cause it, Clostridium botulinum, are sausage-shaped. The -ism suffix was used to indicate a disease caused by something, e.g. alcoholism. First recorded in English in 1887, the word came from the German Botulismus. The paralysing property of the toxin formed by the botulism bacteria is now marketed as the anti-aging product sold as Botox.

In rhyming slang, sausage and mash means cash.

A chipolata is a small, narrow sausage either made from pork (or a blend of pork and beef). They are frequently served with cocktails, as a constituent of a buffet or used to garnish roast meat or poultry. Their name derives from the Italian for onion cipolla.

Salami is a cured sausage made with minced pork and highly seasoned with herbs and spices and often flavoured with garlic. It has a speckled appearance as a result of containing pieces of fat. They are dried slowly to give them a firmer texture. It is sliced very thinly and like pepperoni, it is used as a pizza topping, as well as served along together with other cold meats and a salad or as an appetizer. First recorded 1852. The word is Italian, the plural of salame 'spiced pork sausage' and ultimately from the Latin for salt, sāl , a reference to the fact that it is cured.   

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