By CHRISTINA MINOR Tribune-Herald staff writer
Wednesday, March 3, 2004 - pages B1 & B2
Stop for a minute and think about how you speak.
I'm not talking about the slow Texas drawl escaping
from your lips. I mean really listen to what's being
How many times have you used phrases such as
"cool as a cucumber," "piece of
cake" and "nutty as a fruitcake"?
How about "I'm hungry enough to eat a
horse" or "My eyes are bigger than my
Do you know what they mean and where they come
Most sayings about food or referencing food are
valuable to the time when they were created, said Lani
Raiber, an assistant professor of hospitality and
management studies at the Culinary Institute of
America in New York.
"Think about the saying, ‘Bring home the
bacon,’ ” Raiber said. "If you had enough
money to bring home bacon, something that wasn't
common on the dinner table, then you were making good
The phrase currently pertains to wages earned, not
the pieces of sizzling meat served for breakfast. Its
original meaning refers to entertainment at some of
America's first county fairs when contestants had to
catch and hold down a greased pig. The winner got to
take home the slippery hog, as in he got to take home
the bacon and spare ribs and so on, said Robert Lukey,
Arts and Sciences Department chairman at Johnson and
Wales University in Charleston, S.C.
Some sayings, such as "apple of my eye,"
have nothing to do with eating. The phrase is a
biblical reference dating back to the Garden of Eden.
Although the Bible never names the fruit Adam and Eve
devoured, most people believe it to be an apple.
Scholars speculate that early church fathers listed
the fruit as an apple because it relates to a Greek
legend, Lukey said.
The legend tells the story of Paris, a prince,
presenting an apple to the goddess who most appealed
to his eye. The consequence of his choice led to a
curse, the abduction of Helen and the Trojan War,
The apple also was a revered fruit in Druid
culture. Making it seem wicked could have been a ploy
by the church to win converts, Lukey said.
Clay Butler, an English lecturer at Baylor
University, cites in the Bible Proverbs 7:2 and
Zachariah 2:8 as mentioning the phrase "apple of
my eye." The phrase also is found in Deuteronomy
32:10 and Psalm 17:8. But in each instance, apple has
to do with the pupil of the eye, not fruit.
Food typically reflects people's religious
backgrounds, socioeconomic status and personality,
said Raiber, who also studies the psychology,
anthropology and history of food.
"It's natural for food to intertwine into the
vernacular," she said. "It's impossible for
us to disconnect food from our lives. It's an act we
do every day. It's such a part of our lives, it
becomes a part of our language."
Some people change meanings of phrases to fit into
their current lifestyle or generation. Butler said the
phrases are similar to slang. They start out with a
meaning, but as the definitions are used by different
generations, they begin to change. Each group makes up
or adds on to the meaning.
"It's a form of group identity," Butler
said. "It's a type of bonding, a code that only
that group understands."
Definitions also can change between cultures.
Have you ever had to eat humble pie? It's not very
tasty, having to swallow all that humility in one
large bite. If you looked at the original meaning, you
might not want another bite.
The saying is a take on a British phrase "eat
numble pie." In jolly old England, numble once
referred to the innards of animals. When the Britons
came to the New World, the "n" got replaced
with an "h" and the phrase became synonymous
with being humble, Butler said.someone is crazy or
insane, people might describe that person as
"nutty as a fruitcake."
These sayings also serve as great metaphors, Butler
Take the popular phrase "I'm hungry enough to
eat a horse." In just a few short words, an
entire story that dates back to the 1800s unfolds.
During 1846 and 1847, when the Donner party began
their treacherous journey West, horses and oxen were
the primary means of transportation. Back then it was
considered taboo to eat them, Lukey said. But when the
brutal winter hit the trapped group in the Sierra
Nevada mountains, the 81 travelers didn't care about
taboos. They needed to survive. The supplies quickly
vanished, and the animals were eaten. The group turned
to cannibalism before the few survivors were rescued.
The phrase also could have a less serious
"It's a total exaggeration," Raiber said.
"When you say that you're hungry enough to eat a
horse, you're saying that you're completely ravenous.
There's no way you could eat a horse. It would never
Christina Minor can be reached at 757-6901 or at