Christine Lovatt

French lawyer and gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote in 1825 “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”. Or as we say nowadays – we are what we eat.

Maybe that is why we have always used food to describe the various aspects of our lives.

Your head was once referred to as your nut, perhaps because of its hard shell and soft centre. If you were a little crazy, you were off your nut. This developed into being nutty, being a nutter and as nutty as a fruitcake.

As keen as mustard is very enthusiastic. Mustard, commonly used to season roast beef, became associated with enthusiasm because it added zest and flavour. It was once thought to have been named after Keen’s Mustard but it seems that the expression predated the product. Mr Thomas Keen was possibly inspired by the expression
and his name to open the first mustard factory in London
in 1742 whereas the expression ‘as keen as mustard’ was
first recorded in 1672.

A nobleman of the 19th century was referred to as a toff – a corruption of ‘tuft’, the gold tassel on the mortar board of an Oxford student with an aristocratic background and so toffee-nosed came to mean stuck-up or pretentious.

The inside temperature of a cucumber can be up to 20 degrees cooler than the outside air, which is why we say as cool as a cucumber when referring to a person who remains perfectly composed in all circumstances.

There are a number of cheesy expressions, such as to be cheesed off, which is to be annoyed, the big cheese is the boss, and to say cheese is to smile broadly – a favourite among photographers because pronouncing cheese emphatically makes the cheeks rise and the mouth widen into a smile, showing your teeth.

Aesop’s fable gave us the expression sour grapes, referring to a negative attitude to something unobtainable. A hungry fox noticed a bunch of grapes and tried in vain to eat them. Only when he realised they were beyond his reach did he dismiss the idea of eating them, claiming they were sour anyway.

I always think that as warm as toast evokes a cosy feeling of toasting your feet by the fire, rather than toasted bread, which has very often (in my case) grown cold by the time I sit down to breakfast. Am I alone in that?

The phrase as different as chalk and cheese means to be total opposites, one of many examples of phrases probably coined because they sounded good. It was first used as far back as 1390.

In contrast, as alike as two peas in a pod describes two virtually indistinguishable people or things.

In the etymological world, the expression as brown as a berry is a mystery because berries are mostly red, blue or black – are there any brown berries at all? Chaucer used the expression in The Canterbury Tales, to describe the monk’s horse: ‘his palfrey was as broun as is a berye’.

For further research, I googled ‘brown berries’ and they really do exist – there are Acai berries from the Amazon rainforest, African Sumac tree berries and allspice berries from Mexico – none of which were growing in Chaucer’s English gardens however. It may remain a mystery.

Happy Puzzling!