Top Five Food-Related Idiomatic Expressions

Of the activities that provide me with endless entertainment, eating is high up on the list (shocking, I know), as is analyzing literature, speech, know, words. It came to my attention once when I was teaching ESL how much of our day-to-day slang involves metaphors and similes of consumption, cooking and comestibles (pardon the compulsive alliteration). Here are my five favorite food-related idiomatic expressions. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

5) "If given lemons, make lemonade." Meaning: To make something good out of something bad.

I always admire people who cheerfully "make do" in less-than-ideal situations; this expression is also a testament to the amazing power of a little added sugar. I always thought everyone and their mother at least understood this expression, but in a recent episode of The Real Housewives of New York City, Kelly Bensimon definitely disproved that assumption.

4) "Like nailing Jell-O to the wall." Meaning: A task that is difficult to accomplish because of frequently changing parameters.

Whenever I hear someone use this turn of phrase, I wonder about its origins, specifically whether anyone was ever stupid enough to try affixing a gelatin dessert to a perpendicular surface, and, perhaps, more importantly, what flavor he or she used. My bet's on Cherry.

3) "Icing on the Cake." Meaning: Something good that occurs on top of (or in addition to) an already good thing.

Since nowadays good cake sans frosting still seems to be missing something, does that in turn mean we've raised our standards for what constitutes a positive turn of events? Regardless, the fact that this and other similar phrases ("white-bread" "bun in the oven," etc.) creep into my day-to-day speech must testify to my unconscious obsession with baked goods.

2) "You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs." Meaning: Success or achievement often involves some losses.

Although I disapprove of the way in which this phrase is sometimes misappropriated to justify, oh, mass killings for the sake of national "revolutions," I generally endorse its sentiment. The rise of liquid egg substitutes, however, may be threatening the potency of this proverb.

1) "You never miss a slice from a cut loaf." Meaning: Used to describe intercourse with someone who is not a virgin. It's not readily apparent how many times a non-virgin has had sex, just as it's not readily apparent how many slices have been taken from a loaf of bread once the end has been removed.

More obscure than the other entries on this list, this expression, while fairly coarse and probably sexist, still tickles me because I imagine only brash dowager types whispering it in reference to the neighborhood rake or hussy. It also reminds us of that ancient time when most people made their own loaves rather than picked up a bag of pre-sliced Sunbeam.

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Joanna O'Leary