Say what? The origins of commonly used meat-centric phrases

We’re sure you’ve heard phrases like “The cat’s out of the bag,” “Keep your eyes peeled” and “You look bad in orange.” (But maybe that last one was just something my mom said?) Many of the sayings people use sound quite odd when you really consider what they mean versus what is being said. This got us thinking: how many commonly used “meaty” phrases, idioms, and sayings are actually derived from an origin and how many are just plain silly? Read below to find out.

                                                 SAY WHAT THE ORIGINS OF COMMONLY USED MEAT-CENTRIC PHRASES 1

“Living high on the hog”

This saying dates backs to a time of Olde English banquets, paupers, and royals (but those still exist, of course). Only the very wealthy could afford to eat the best cuts of pork, considered the back and upper leg and the poor were left with pork belly and trotters (feet). Since the rich were living high on the hog, almost literally, this phrase is an actual signifier of wealth or good times.

“Boston Butt”

This popular cut of meat has nothing to do with the rear end of the pig at all (sorry to disappoint you, middle school boys everywhere). In colonial times (hence the Boston part of this name), butchers would take cuts of meat not considered high quality, such as the front pork shoulder and tightly pack them into barrels for storage and transportation. These barrels were also referred to as butts and as the popularity of this cut of meat increased across the country, so did the unappetizing name.

                                                   SAY WHAT THE ORIGINS OF COMMONLY USED MEAT-CENTRIC PHRASES 2“Chew the fat”

Squeamish readers, we recommend averting your eyes now. Just as we chew gum to pass the time, Inuit would chew something else when they got bored: whale blubber. Fun fact, up until after WWII, chewing gum was made from the sap of the sapodilla tree, which is really just a form of rubber. Maybe that whale blubber doesn’t sound so bad after all…

                                                SAY WHAT THE ORIGINS OF COMMONLY USED MEAT-CENTRIC PHRASES 3

“Bring home the bacon”

The origin of this phrase is a bit trickier to determine. One story suggests a long time ago a town elder in England gave prizes to couples whose devotion to one another couldn’t be broken. Their reward: a small portion of bacon.

Another tale (and one we think seems a bit more feasible) is that of the boxer Joe Gans. Before one of his fights, his mother sent him a telegram wishing him luck and telling him to “bring home the bacon.” What may have been a simple grocery request turned into a phrase encouraging people to bring home glory or money, and unless it’s on the list your spouse wrote for you, probably not actual bacon.

“Give the cold shoulder”

This is another saying many lingual etymologists “have a beef over” (seriously, we can’t stop). Some argue this term was a passive-aggressive way to get unwanted guests out of your home in medieval England. When party stragglers had outstayed their welcome, hosts would give them a piece of cold meat from whatever they had been dining on that night. This was the “hint” the partygoers needed to give them a light, but obvious kick out the door.

Others argue this term has nothing to do with meat at all. This theory states Scottish author Sir Walter Scott was the first to pen the saying (in a very Scottish way) in his 1816 book The Antiquary: “Ye may mind that the Countess’s dislike didna gang farther at first than just showing o’ the cauld shouther — at least it wana seen farther.” Simply put, the lady didn’t like him from the get-go, so she just ignored him a bit. Essentially, the same meaning it has when used today.

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