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 beer and ale

Beer is an alcoholic beverage made by allowing yeast to ferment an infusion of malt, i.e. germinated grain. Beers are flavoured by the addition of hops. The term beer is also used to describe unrelated, lightly fermented drinks made from extracts of the roots and other parts of various plants, e.g. ginger, nettles, spruce, sassafras, etc. The word is from the Old English bēor, and is thought by many to ultimately derive from the Latin bibere which means drink and is the same word that gave us beverage and imbibe.

The over-consumption of beer can result in a paunch known as a beer belly (first recorded as American slang in 1942) or a beer gut (first recorded in 1976)

Beer goggles are imaginary glasses said to be worn by someone who finds someone or something more attractive purely as a result of intoxication. For example, ‘he must have his beer goggles on’ to have found her attractive. Originating in American English, the expression is first recorded in 1987.

Introduced in 1800, beer money was an allowance of one penny a day paid to non-commissioned officers and soldiers in the British Army. It replaced the daily issue of beer or spirits to troops while they were on home service. It ended in 1873 when it became incorporated into a soldier's daily pay. However, the expression remains in use today in the meanings of a gratuity or an insignificant amount of money.

Gottle o' geer is a phrase popularly used to parody the inability of poor ventriloquists to enunciate ‘b’s without moving their lips. It is based on ‘bottle of beer’.

The proverb (life isn’t) all beer and skittles means that life is or isn’t all about idle enjoyment and pleasure (spent in the pub). The proverb or variations upon it appears in literature from the middle of the 19th century. In 1837 Dickens used it in his Pickwick Papers: "It's a reg'lar holiday to them - all porter and sketles." and it appears in Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's Schooldays, published in 1857 ‘Life isn't all beer and skittles.’

Weak or inferior beer was known as 'small beer' which is the origin of the general expression small beer meaning something of little importance or consequence.

Lagers originated in Europe and are matured by storing them for a number of months at a low temperature. The word lager is first recorded in 1855 in American English shortened from the slightly older 'lager beer'. The name came from the German Lagerbier, which originated from Lager 'storehouse' + Bier 'beer'. Thus it was the fact that they were brewed to be stored that gave them their name. Lagers are also known as Pilsner lagers or Pils from the fact that the original lager was brewed in Pilsen in Czechoslovakia.

Lager lout is a British term for a young person who drinks a lot of lager and which as a result has a predisposition towards violent behavior. The term is first recorded in 1987.



Meaning ‘of, or pertaining to, a bride or a wedding’, the word bridal does not obviously have a connection with food or drink. However, when it was first recorded, as bridale, around the turn of the 13th century, the word was a noun, with the meaning 'wedding feast'. Bridale came from the Old English brýd-ealo, which originated from the words brýd 'bride' + ealo ale. Ealo was used both for ale and a festival at which a lot of ale was consumed, in a similar way to the way in which tea became both a drink and a meal at which it was drunk. The second element of brýd-ealo later became confused with the suffix -al, which resulted in the alteration in spelling and the change of use to an adjective.

Porters are heavy, dark ales obtaining their colour from the dark roasting of the malt grains. Both cheap and strong, they are first recorded in 1727 as porter's ale. The drink was named after the fact that it was popular with porters, i.e. workers who carried luggage at railway stations etc. The word porter comes from the French porteour, from Latin portator, from portare ‘to carry’, which is also the origin of portable and portfolio.

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Champagne Charlie