Cutting the Mustard
I read an online comment in which the writer said that something wouldn’t “cut the muster.”
I cruised the web a bit to see if this is a common alteration of the idiom to cut the mustard. It doesn’t seem to be too wide spread, but it’s out there.
Apparently there’s a mix-up with the expression to pass muster, meaning “to meet a required standard.” Ex. You call that project “finished”? It doesn’t pass muster with me!
muster: Chiefly Mil. An act of calling together soldiers, sailors, prisoners, etc.; an assembling of people for inspection, exercises, etc.
We can say:
The general mustered his troops.
The private did not pass muster because his shoes were dirty.
The expression to cut the mustard derives from associations with the spicy condiment. The expression keen as mustard dates from 1679. Ex. That lad is keen as mustard. (He’s enthusiastic and bright.)
Mustard is pungent. It’s strong. It’s hot stuff. It adds flavor to bland food.
There was a cowboy expression, the proper mustard, which meant “the genuine article.” Perhaps from that use mustard came to mean “the best.”
The word “cut” in the expression hasn’t anything to do with snipping off leaves. It’s used in the sense it has in the expression to cut a fine figure. A person who can cut the mustard has strength and energy. It’s the lack of these qualities that would cause someone to say, “He’s too old to cut the mustard.”
Being unable to cut the mustard doesn’t always imply that a person is too old. It may mean that the person, of whatever age, simply hasn’t got what it takes to perform a particular activity:
Perhaps I could get a job as a maid in somebody’s house…Idden convinced me I would never cut the mustard at this occupation. Hons and Rebels, Jessica Mitford.
Marlene Dietrich and Rosemary Clooney used to sing a song called Too Old to Cut the Mustard.
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