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

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Susa Louvre/Wikipedia Commons
Here are three forks in the road.


6. A Good Egg -- Calling someone a "good egg" is a straightforward-enough agrarian compliment, though somewhat diluted by the fact that good eggs far outnumber bad, so much so that an actual bad -- or "rotten" -- egg is a rare occurrence among chicken eggs. Perhaps this is supposed to down-modify the meaning of the expression, so that it might be interpreted as bland, along the lines of "He's a nice fellow." Note, this joins many other "egg" expressions, including "bad egg," "egg-head," "scrambled," and "egged on."

7. Fork in the Road -- This term is used to described a Y intersection, where one road turns into two. So why "fork in the road"? Doesn't a fork have four (or sometimes three) tines, which would indicate a road that split into more than two routes? Well, the original forks were not used as dining utensils, but as implements to hold meat while carving, and thus had only two tines. Such forks were used in Greek and Roman times, but the usage in "fork in the road" is probably of medieval vintage.

8. Chopped Liver -- We've all heard the disgruntled question, "What am I, chopped liver?" It refers to the fact that chopped chicken liver, whether in Ashkenazi or Italian cooking, is a side dish, and one that is easily upstaged by a main course. It's often said when the speaker is feeling ignored, and it has a sort of Borscht-Belty sound of self-parody about it.

9. Full of Beans -- English boasts lots of idioms based on legumes. If someone is a bookkeeper or accountant, she's a "bean counter." If someone tattles on someone else, he is said to "spill the beans." But what about "full of beans," which is used when a person is flamboyantly full of himself. The origin of this expression is harder to determine, though one website identifies it as having arisen about 100 years ago as a result of the practice of feeding horses beans, which apparently made them high-spirited.

10. One Smart Cookie -- "Cookie" -- originally a Dutch term -- has wormed its way into all sorts of slang expressions. To "toss one's cookies" means to throw up, while "tough cookie" is a person with admirable tenacity. "Smart cookie" seems to be of fairly recent vintage (some say the 1940s), but whether "cookie" refers to the sweet baked treat, or to cooks themselves, is lost in derivational murk. Any ideas?


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