10 Food Idioms Explained: What the Hell Does 'Piping Hot' Mean?

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Easy as pie?


Our common speech is littered with food-derived aphorisms, metaphors, and other figures of speech. Some, like "wolfing down a meal" and "that guy's a vegetable," are rather obvious, but there are others that seem inscrutable, where not enough of the original idea remains. Here are 10 food idioms that maybe need some explaining. [Note: This is a very inexact science. Feel free to disagree.]

1. Piping Hot -- This expression was used as early as late medieval times, referring to the steam that shot out of a spouted tea kettle, a device in use at least since ancient Mesopotamia. In other words, "piping hot" means "boiling hot." Chaucer used the expression in 1386, as quoted by wiki.answers: "Wafres pipyng hoot out of the gleede" ("Waffles piping hot out of the fire"). On the other hand, when Shakespeare used the word "piping" two centuries later as an adjective, he was referring to bagpiping.

2. Done to a Turn -- It sounds like this refers to our contemporary practice of turning certain grilled foods (e.g., pancakes and hamburgers) with a spatula. But the phrase is much older, originating in the Middle Ages, when meats were cooked, not in ovens or on barbecues, but on spits turning over an open fire. Hence, "done to a turn," meaning within one turn of being perfectly cooked.

3. Easy as Pie -- Making pies is hard work, which is why this expression seems contra-logical. You've got to prepare the shortening, measure and mix and roll out the dough, painstakingly fit it perfectly into the pie plate, and that is before you even start to make the filling. And, yeah, you can add such further time-consuming tasks as latticing the top. So what gives with the expression? Well, apparently the original was something like "Easy as eating a piece of pie," which gradually shortened to "Easy as pie." Ditto with the similar expression, "Piece of cake."

4. Rolling in Dough -- Dough, of course, is a slang expression for money, and "rolling in dough" means that you're wealthy. But what is the underlying meaning? It seems straightforward enough that, if you have enough dough, you could literally roll in it like a kid might roll in a stack of autumn leaves. But the expression may refer to baking practice, in which doughs like those of the croissant had their butter rolled between the layers as a step in the making of the pastry. In fact, "rolled-in dough" is what such pastries are called today.

5. Salad Days -- While many food idioms in common usage occurred spontaneously over a long period of time, some have a specific point of origin. Such is the case with "salad days," meaning "in one's prime," which was an expression invented by Shakespeare in one of his latest plays, Anthony and Cleopatra (1606): "My salad days/When I was green in judgment: cold in blood/To say as I said then!"


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What did punky Cleopatra have to do with the expression "salad days"?

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