Saturday, February 26, 2011

No, Not Another Food Cliche'

Fish out of Water?
Writing this blog is a fairly new creative outlet for me. Most of my experiences in writing have been in business correspondence, emailing, Facebooking or Tweeting. None of which are terribly creative unless you are talented at creating witty headlines. When I decided to take the leap and start this blog, I was reminded of the advice one of my college TV script professors taught me. Write about what you know and reflect on what you are passionate about.

Easy enough.  I know some about food and am definitely passionate about the subject.  But why is it every time I start to write a new post, every foodie cliche possible pops into my mind?

Is it because I'm a newbie at creative writing? Maybe, but when I used one these idioms I would feel like I was cheating to make the point. I started to pay attention to other people's writing more closely. This awareness even included paying attention to everyday banter, written and spoken.

Guess what? We all use them. We all use catch phrases because they work at making a point. But they only make a point if your audience understands its implied meaning. Food cliches are probably the most overused of all.

I personally find reading an item full of, call it what you will, sayings, catch phrases or cliches tiring to the reader. Therefore, I will continue to try to avoid the expected turn of a phrase in future posts. Dedicating myself to the avoidance though, hasn't stopped my curiosity of where some of these terms originally came from. So bear with me while I get it out of my system. If you are interested read on... If not, believe me I understand.

Apple of My Eye - a very common term used over and over again through the ages including the King James Bible translation. The original Hebrew for this idiom was 'iyshown 'ayin (אישון עין), and can be literally translated as "Little Man of the Eye." This is a reference to the tiny reflection of yourself that you can see in other people's pupils.  Hence the reason for the use with parents and their children or a beau and his gal.  Other notable authors such as Shakespeare and John Paul Jones from the band Led Zeppelin continued to give life to the phrase.

Cold as a Cucumber - cucumbers are cool to the touch, of course.  Cool is synonymous with the word calm.  Remember, I'm just reporting the facts here...the phrase first appeared in a play in 1610, "Cupid's Revenge."  The playwrights called some women, "cold as cucumbers."

Egg on your Face - more than likely started as US teenage slang as documented by the Danville, VA's The Bee in 1941.  The literal translation, of course, references poor or sloppy eating in a social setting, but is implied that some turn of an event leaves one looking foolish.

Fish out of Water - a metaphor for one who is uncomfortable in a situation. Earliest reference was found in Samuel Purchas's Pilgrimage, 1613,"The Arabians out of the deserts are as Fishes out of the Water."

Have one's Cake and Eat it Too - a popular figure of speech implying you can't have it both ways.  The phrase's earliest recording is from 1546 as "wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?" John Heywood's "A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue" alluding to the impossibility of eating your cake and still having it afterwards.

High on the Hog - is in reference to the priciest, best cuts of meat on the pig.  If one is living "high on the hog" they are living the high life.  While there are references to living the high life dating back to the 17th century, none specifically in relation to the hog.  In food historian Jessica B. Harris's recent publication, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, she cites how a Master "hired" a slave to slaughter his pig each season.  The pay ... a pig's head, feet and ears.  Several years passed and as the slave emancipated he found a bit more wealth.  When called upon the following season to slaughter the pig, he inquired about his pay and the Master responded with the historical payout (head, feet and ears) plus a bonus of the tails!  Our protagonist was able to respond he would not need the work as he was able to live higher on the hog since he now owned 3 pigs himself.

Pie in the Sky - we all know this to mean future happiness being unlikely to achieve.  The phrase was originally used by a Swedish immigrant, Joe Hill in a 1911 song parody of the Salvation Army's hymn, "Sweet Bye and Bye" criticizing the theology of the salvation of souls rather than feeding the hungry.  It was later popularized by The Fresno Bee in 1939 during World War II stating the business world was fearful of Roosevelt's focus on restricting trade and profit.

Proof is in the Pudding - it shouldn't come as any surprise that an original phrase dating back to 1605 got mangled along the way.  The proverb was popularized by Spanish author, Cervantes' "History of Don Quixote."  “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” A dish may have been made from a good recipe with fresh ingredients and looks delicious, but you can really only judge it by putting it in your mouth. The actual taste is the only true criterion of success.

Selling Like Hotcakes - early-American cornmeal cakes cooked in pork fat or bear grease and sold at fairs and church benefits.  That sounds good...where can I go buy some?

Take things with a Grain of Salt - a quick interpretation is to accept but maintain a degree of skepticism.  The idea behind the phrase is that food is more easily consumed with a bit of salt.  The phrase took hold in the English language as far back as 1647 in John Trapp's "Commentary on the Old and New Testaments."

Now that I've satisfied my curiosity in understanding these idioms, perhaps I am cured of my impulse to use one.  Only time will tell.



  1. I took to this post like a thirsty man to water; you can lead a horse to your blog but you can't make him drink; I took it in hand-to-mouth; your writing in the cream of the crop; the cherry on top; the Coliseum; the Louvre Museum; etc.

  2. Hi Sylvia, I was just thinking about some new ideas for an article regarding weight loss and I came up with the title "lets talk in cliches". I googled food cliches and it led me to your lovely blog. After reading this piece it certainly gave me food for thought (sorry) but you're right people do actually talk like that and it is a quick way to get your point across. I suppose as an author one does need to try and stay away from the old favourites. Anyway great article, really enjoyed it.
    Take Care

  3. Oh so much fun! Thank you.


  4. Jean, thank you for the kudos about my blog. I visited your blog and noted your in Malaga, Spain! Until last summer, I had no familiarity with the city. But my husband and I visited there and found it sublime. Small world isn't it? slay me! Hugs!


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