Culinary Delights, What is Organic

Speaking in Tongues – How Food Idioms Pepper Our Language

close up photo of woman biting her lower lip
Photo by Ali Pazani on

What’s in an idiom? It’s a saying, usually set down from the past, that has a very different meaning than its literal words. The words don’t mean what they say, can I say what they mean?

For instance, when I’m talking with my friend, am I actually chewing the fat? And when I’m found wrong, is there really egg on my face?

In a nutshell, idioms are phrases that we use every day, as easy as apple pie, without even realizing it.

I have acquired a taste for recognizing them as they’re sprinkled through many half-baked conversations.  Even though I have a lot on my plate, I want to take time and crack the nut as to why we have so many food idioms.

three walnuts on left palm
Photo by Wallace Chuck on

It may be because food is central to our being; it’s the bread and butter of our existence. Food helps us bear fruit – build civilizations – it’s the spice of life.

It may come from the pure joy of preparation. When I’m home, I can often be found cooking up a storm for my husband – the big enchilada. Yet I never bite off more than I can chew.

I slice and dice away as cool as a cucumber, always content to whip up the finest of organic creations.

In the winter, I want to make something that sticks to our ribs, and I won’t sugar coat it; sometimes it doesn’t work out. My cakes may come out as flat as a pancake, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Again, I never put all my eggs in one basket and often make several dishes together, like two peas in a pod.

Sometimes my creations are the best thing since sliced bread. When they melt in my mouth, I know I’ve hit the nail on the head. It all flows together like a piece of cake.

blueberries cake chocolate chocolate cake
Photo by Abhinav Goswami on

You may think we live high on the hog and we sometimes do – but I’ve also come to realize it’s either feast or famine in life.

I wonder from when and where some idioms originated. Here’s some food for thought:

When something is old and long in the tooth, we say someone’s gone to pot. This isn’t a reference to the green revolution no longer forbidden fruit in some states. It actually reckons back to when the hen stopped laying and was only useful if she went to the stew pot. She had gone to pot.

white chicken on a concrete pavement
Photo by Luke Barkhuizen on

Out of the frying pan and into the fire actually dates back to the Grecian times. It’s first recorded use was in a poem by Germanicus Caesar. In his poem, a hare in flight from a dog attempts to escape by jumping into the sea, only to be seized by a ‘sea-dog.’

What about bringing home the bacon? It is said that around 1100, in the small town of Great Dunmow in Essex, England, the church awarded a side of bacon to any man who could honestly say that he had not argued with his wife for a year and one day. Only then did he truly bring home the bacon.

Idioms, it seems, are unique to the language and historical culture of a place. Idioms do not cross-reference well between languages and cultures.

Imagine how hard it is to learn English when our language is mashed with idioms. It’s hard for non-English speakers to crack the egg as to understand what’s being said.

We have a beautiful couple living near us; one is from France and the other Israel. Imagine how perplexing it is for them when I say my friend is getting long in the tooth. They clearly think I’m out to lunch, wondering if she shouldn’t just get dental work.

And when I tell them not to cry over spilt milk, they walk on eggshells around me, because that’s not their cup of tea.

white ceramic teacup on saucer with brown liquid
Photo by on

Then again, when we agree to meet, he says to me “let’s cut the pear in two” or “couper la poire en deux” in French. He really means “let’s meet halfway. Quelle nouille – what a noodle I am!

Keep. In mind when in France, “tomber dans les pommes (to fall in the apples)” means to pass out or faint. If you “tondre des œufs (shear the eggs),” it means you’re cheap.

My girlfriend says in Hebrew, “shikor velo meyayin (she is drunk, but not from wine).” She’s in love! Yet when I ask her how her day went, she says, “asal yom basal,” which literally means a day of honey, a day of onions, meaning she had a good and bad day.

With English idioms she says “Echad baleve ve echad ba pe” which is literally- One in his mouth and one in his heart and means to say one thing and think another. That’s exactly what idioms are!

These idioms litter the pantry of every language it seems, so you must take everything with a pinch of salt when traveling.

You may think I’m as nutty as a fruitcake to consider food idioms, that I must have bigger fish to fry. But I love food, and I love words, and then, sometimes I’m just full of beans.

I could keep spilling the beans until the cows come home but in the end that would put me in a bit of a pickle.

So, it’s back to the salt mines for me, writing and cooking, realizing that life is just a bowl of cherries and one bad egg will not spoil the adventure.

red cherries
Photo by mentatdgt on

That’s all folks, I’ve noodled my brain, and I may be one smart cookie, but at least I’m not a couch potato.

Can you think of a food idiom I’ve missed?




8 thoughts on “Speaking in Tongues – How Food Idioms Pepper Our Language”

  1. Well, I guess if you would have tried to work in ‘toss your salad’ you would’ve ended up with a ‘hot potato’. 😜

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