We continue our exploration of the English language by looking at some of the odder phrases you may hear in conversations. Sometimes these expressions might not appear to make any sense to a non-native English speaker and this is because they have evolved to mean something different. This type of phrase is an idiom – an expression with a figurative meaning that differs from its literal meaning.
Here, we look at what some strange food-themed English phrases mean – and reveal their origins…
1. Flavour of the month
An American ice cream company used this catchphrase in the 1940s in an attempt to persuade shoppers to buy a different flavour of ice cream each month rather than stick to their usual choice. Since then, it has been used to describe any short-lived fashion, craze or person that is quickly dropped after being in demand.
Use it: “Ben is really popular with everyone at the moment; he’s definitely flavour of the month.”
2. Apple of one’s eye
This phrase describes something or someone highly cherished. It is thought the phrase has come about because the pupil of the eye was described as an “apple” because it is perfectly round and originally thought to be solid. Because eyesight is so precious, anyone who is called this is similarly precious.
The phrase is used in the Bible many times, including Psalms 17:8: “Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.”
Use it: “I love my daughter, Holly – she’s the apple of my eye.”
3. The big enchilada
This phrase is used to describe the leader, the top man or woman, the boss. It crops up in the infamous Watergate tapes, in which it is a reference to then US Attorney General John Mitchell. Mitchell led President Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972, and was later indicted on charges that he had conspired to plan the burglary of the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington DC. He was convicted in 1974.
This phrase is a modernised version of earlier phrases that mean the same thing: the big cheese and the big gun.
Use it: “Dave is in charge – he’s the big enchilada.”
4. Couch potato
This started off as American slang from the late 1980s, describing someone who lounges on the couch all the time watching television, eating and drinking, never taking exercise. The expression is now used in most English-speaking exercises to refer to someone who is generally lazy at home. It is thought that the potato features in the metaphor due to it being the “tuber” of the potato plant, thus punning with “the tube” – the television.
Use it: “I didn’t leave the sofa all day yesterday, I felt like such a couch potato.”
5. Cut the mustard
A phrase that means to do something well and efficiently – or it “doesn’t cut the mustard” if it is done badly. It probably derives from mustard as slang for “the best”, a line from O. Henry’s novel, Cabbages and Kings: “I’m not headlined in the bills, but I’m the mustard in the salad just the same.”
Use it: “I don’t like that plan, it doesn’t cut the mustard with me.”
6. As easy as pie
Making a pie is not easy, so this expression must apply to the eating of it! It originated in 19th-century America, where sweet pie was a common dish and the word “pie” was associated with simple pleasures. An easy talk can also be described as “a piece of cake”, which is also easy to obtain and eat, as opposed to baking it.
Use it: “The journey is as easy as pie – it’ll only take us ten minutes.”
Have you been confused by a strange English phrase and need it explained? Let us know in the comments section below…