A universal preoccupation with food is apparent in the many idioms based on it. Here are just ten:
1. apples and oranges: two things that are inherently different or incompatible. For example, “To compare The Chronicles of Narnia to the Twilight series is to compare apples to oranges.”
2. bad apple: a negative or corrupting influence on others; a troublesome or despicable person. For example, “One official of a national motorcycle organization argued that a few bad apples shouldn’t be allowed to ruin all motorcyclists’ reputations…”
3. bring home the bacon: to bring home the prize, to achieve success.
In American usage “to bring home the bacon” means “to earn the living for a household.” The expression probably originated from the custom/legend of the Dunmow Flitch. A “flitch of bacon” is a side of bacon, salted and cured. Married visitors to the town of Dunmow in Essex who knelt on two sharp stones and could swear that during the past twelvemonth they’d never quarreled with their spouse or wished themselves unmarried could claim a free flitch of bacon. Another possibility is that the expression derives from greased pig contests at county fairs. The contestant who succeeded in catching the pig “brought home the bacon.”
4. chew the fat: originally the expression meant to argue over a point, perhaps because people arguing make energetic mouth movements similar to what is required to masticate gristle.
In British usage, both “chew the fat” and “chew the rag” mean to argue or grumble. In American usage, the expressions mean “to engage in friendly conversation.”
5. cream puff: literally, a cream puff is a shell of puff pastry with a cream filling. In British usage, a “cream puff” is an effeminate person. In American usage, a “cream puff “is a used car in especially good condition.
6. cup of tea: something that suits a person’s disposition
The expression is used in both positive and negative contexts:
“A Mozart concert? Just my cup of tea!”
“A ball game? Sorry, football is not my cup of tea.”
7. a pretty/fine kettle of fish: an awkward state of affairs; a mess or a muddle. For example, “As the crisis dragged on to the eleventh month, Bishop Segun introduced a pretty kettle of fish to the whole matter when he instituted an ecclesiastical court…”
In researching this post, I discovered that the expression “a pretty kettle of fish” (with the meaning “a fine mess”) seems to be morphing into “a different kettle of fish” or “another kettle of fish” with the meaning “something else entirely.” For example, “Your website needs to be a whole different kettle of fish.”
8. a lemon: something that is bad or undesirable.
Anything that fails to meet expectations can be called a lemon. For example, “Her first husband was a lemon.”
Most often, the term is used to describe a car that has problems from its time of purchase. Individual states have “lemon laws” intended to protect consumers from substandard vehicles. The federal lemon law (the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act) was enacted in 1975 and protects citizens of all states.
9. full of beans: full of energy and high spirits. For example, this headline: “Hollins still full of beans as he settles in at Crawley Town”
In current usage the expression “full of beans” is so frequently associated with children that it has been adopted as a brand name by child care centers and a children’s clothing store. I’ve always assumed that the expression derived from the idea of a frisky bean-fed horse, but recently I read that at one time beans were considered an aphrodisiac.
10. hot potato: a delicate situation that must be handled with great care. For example, this headline: “Herbert’s ‘Healthy Utah’ Plan Could be a Political Hot Potato”
Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips and get a free eBook!
- Our weekly newsletter is free (one email per week, on Tuesdays)
- You will improve your English, guaranteed.
- Get our "100 Writing Mistakes to Avoid" eBook free.