These Food Idioms Can Help You Digest The Holiday Season

Easy as pie

As many of us know from experience, it is not so easy to make a pie. A buttery crust can fall apart in the deftest of hands, and around Thanksgiving many pumpkin "pies" might be more accurately deemed pumpkin "soups." On the other hand (or for our purposes), it is extremely easy to eat pie, even a whole pie at that.

Popularized in the U.S. in the late 1800s, the most notable use of pie means "simple and pleasurable," and it appears in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Part of our next food idiom makes a home in many pies. Yum.

It's like apples and oranges

Apples and oranges refers to two incommensurable items, i.e., a comparison of things that cannot be compared. Though they are both fruits, apples and oranges are separated by color, taste, juiciness, and 89.2 million years of evolution.

The idiom first appeared as apples and oysters in John Ray's 1670 Proverb collection, and equivalent terms exist in many languages: grandmothers and toads in Serbian to love and the eye of an axe in Argentine Spanish, ha! Apples and oranges has rightfully been beat.

The big cheese

Perhaps the savoriest idiom on this list, the word cheese can refer to a person or thing that is important or splendid as well as to the delicious dairy product. The usage is thought to have origins in Urdu, from the Persian chiz meaning "thing." In common usage, the big cheese is a person of importance or authority.

So, at Thanksgiving dinner, remember to refer to the chef in your family as the big cheese to make them feel important and to acknowledge that they are in charge. You'll get the biggest piece of pie, we can almost guarantee. And, take a picture with the head honcho to really get a smile—but don't forget to tell them to "say cheese!" We know, we know . . . but, idioms right?

Spill the beans

English speakers have been using the word spill to mean "divulge secret information" since 1547, but spilling the beans, in particular, may predate the term by millennia.

Many historians claim that secret societies in ancient Greece voted by dropping black or white beans into a clay urn. To spill those beans would be to reveal the results of a secret vote before the ballots had been counted. Kidney he lives, pinto he dies! Yikes.

Going bananas

Not only does going bananas mean "to go crazy," the term can point to things you've gone bananas about (bordering on obsessions). According to lexicographer E.J. Lighter, going bananas refers to the term going ape often used in American popular culture in the second half of the 1900s.

Apes were seen as crazy by the mid-century media, and what do apes eat? Bananas! For example, here at Dictionary.com, we're bananas for definitions but we go bananas for Word of the Year.

Not my cup of tea

Though English is spoken all over the world, there are certain idioms that recall its, well, Englishness. Popularized in British Edwardian slang, cup of tea originally referred to something pleasant or agreeable.

The negative usage as in not my cup of tea arose during World War II as a more polite way to say you didn't like something. "You don't say someone gives you a pain in the neck," explained Alistair Cooke in his 1944 Letter from America. You just remark, 'he's not my cup of tea.'" Those Brits, so proper.

Walking on eggshells

This idiom is our most delicate: walking on eggshells or "taking great care not to upset someone." It is thought to have originated in politics when diplomats were described as having the remarkable ability to tread so lightly around difficult situations, it was as though they were walking on eggshells. Always a good one to keep in mind when approaching touchy subjects at the holiday table . . . or, maybe it's best to just avoid those eggshells all together.

In a nutshell

The phrase in a nutshell refers to a short description, or a story, told in no more words than can physically fit in the shell of a nut. But, the origin of the term tests those limits with the most longwinded of tales.

The ancient Roman encyclopaedist Pliny the Elder claimed that a copy of Homer's The Iliad existed that was small enough to fit inside a walnut shell. Almost 2000 years later in the early 1700s, the Bishop of Avranches tested Pliny's theory by writing out the epic in tiny handwriting on a walnut-sized piece of paper and lo and behold, he did it!

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