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 coffee

Coffee describes the powder produced from roasted and ground seeds of coffee trees as well as the drink made from this powder. Although coffee was being drunk in Arab countries as long ago as the 15th century, it took time to spread to Europe and only became fashionable there during the 17th century. The drink was first seen in England about 1630. The word coffee entered English around the turn of the 17th century as chaoua, coffe and coffa borrowed from the Turkish kahveh or directly from the Arabic qahwah meaning coffee but which originally meant ‘wine’.  

The drinking of coffee has become such an intrinsic part of our lives that it has spawned its own vocabulary:  A short break from working may be a coffee-break - 1951, just long enough to make and drink a cup of coffee - The same thing as a tea break. An informal social gathering before noon is known as a coffee-morning - 1962. A coffee table – 1877 is a small low table on which to rest one's cup of coffee cup and on which magazines and books are placed. This, in turn, has given rise to the coffee-table book - 1962, which is a costly, large, well-illustrated book that is too large for a bookshelf and suitable for leaving on a coffee table for visitors to admire. They were previously known as grand piano books. A coffee-cup – 1782. A small restaurant serving drinks and snacks may be referred to as a coffee shop - 1838. Also known as a café. Previously coffee was served at a coffee bar – 1905 or a coffee house - 1615.

First recorded in 1943, the phrase wake up and smell the coffee means to recognize the true situation, no matter how unpleasant it may be, and stop being naive.

Cappuccino is coffee made with a topping of milk or cream that has been frothed up by passing pressurized steam through it. It generally has grated or powdered chocolate, or cinnamon sprinkled over it. The word is Italian in origin, from the word Capuchin, the name of a friar of a branch of the Franciscan order named after the pointed hood they wear. The cappuccino is thought to allude to the brown colour of a Capuchin’s gown.

Drunk black, espresso is a type of very strong coffee produced by an espresso machine forcing, under pressure, a combination of water and steam through superfine coffee. It uses around twice as much coffee as would normally be used. It is traditionally served in a small cup and sweetened with sugar. Very strong espresso coffee mixed with very hot milk and served in a glass is a breakfast drink known as caffe latte. First recorded in 1945, the word comes from the Italian caffè espresso from espresso 'pressed out' ultimately from the Latin exprimere 'press out' which is also the origin of the words express and expression.

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