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 milk

Milk is a whitish liquid secreted by female mammals to give nourishment to their young. The production of milk is a fundamental part of being a mammal. In fact, the very word mammal means an animal which suckles (i.e. feed with milk from the breast) its young. The word milk comes from the Old English meoluc, milc.

If you milk someone for all they are worth you exploit someone by relentlessly taking a benefit (especially money or information) off them. From the act of milking an animal. The use of milk to mean exploit for profit dates all the way back to 1526.

It's no use crying over spilt milk means that there is no point in bemoaning one's misfortune as it will not alter the situation. As ‘No weeping for shed milk’ the proverb dates back to 17th century.

The phrase land of milk and honey means a place of prosperity and abundance. It refers to the richness of the Promised Land of Israel in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:8).

Someone who is full of the milk of human kindness is naturally compassionate and caring towards others. The phrase comes from Shakespeare's Macbeth (1605(6)) in which Lady Macbeth expresses her thoughts that Macbeth may not use violence in order to seize the Scottish throne. In it she states: ‘Yet I do fear thy nature; It is too full o' the milk of human kindnesse’.

The Milky Way refers to the galaxy that includes the Earth. It was so-called because to the naked eye it appears as a milky band arching across the night sky. First recorded as the Milky Way around 1380 in Chaucer's House of Fame, it’s name was a direct translation of its name in Latin, via lactea. The Greeks knew it as galaxias kuklos or ‘the milky vault’ from the Greek for milk, gāla. This developed into our word galaxy which stopped meaning the Milky Way and came to be used for any system consisting of millions of stars.

A pinta is a slang term for a pint of milk. Standing for ‘pint o' milk’ the word arose from a British advertising slogan, ‘Drinka Pinta Milka Day’ used by National Dairy Council from 1958. The word then became an accepted word in the English language. The word bears similarities to the earlier word cuppa which means a cup of tea.  


Developed in France about the turn of the 20th century, homogenization is a commercial process that prevents milk from creaming, i.e. it stops the fat globules from grouping and rising to the surface which would happen naturally because fat is less dense than water. Milk is heated before forcing it through a very small hole at high pressure onto a hard surface which splits the fat globules into about a quarter of their original - already minute - size. Their smaller size prevents them rising to the surface and keeps them evenly suspended through the milk.  The process results in a product of uniform consistency and the word ultimately comes from the Greek words homós meaning same + génos meaning kind.

Pasteurization is a means of preservation achieved either by heating foods such as milk, eggs and fruit juices  to a high temperature for a short time (commonly to nearly 72 degrees for 15 seconds), or to a lower temperature for much longer (e.g. 62 degrees for 30 minutes). It destroys harmful, disease causing bacteria, whilst the development of others that cause milk to 'go off' is delayed, thereby delaying deterioration and extending a product's shelf-life. The technique is named after Louis Pasteur (1822-95), the French chemist and founder of microbiology whose work with wine and beer in the mid 19th century demonstrated how heat treatment had the effect of slowing the multiplication of bacteria. Pasteurize is first recorded in 1881 and pasteurization less than a decade later.

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As though butter wouldn't melt in your mouth