Food in Phrase and Fable

After my recent article R is for Rum, my friend Ian I and I exchanged a few emails about phrases in the English language which are food related. My dealings with Ian go back to when he was Clerk to one of Scotland's major licensing boards. Many of you will know that I was once a licensing lawyer. While much of the work was hum drum, applications for new licences for big projects could be full of high drama. Ian's emails got me reminiscing. None of the events below is based on any real licensing board or real person, alive or dead. (Well, not much.)

It was application day at last. I had had a good sleep and woke up full of beans. Having said that, I knew this application was far from being a piece of cake. Police objections, and a trade objector represented by some fancy dan KC.

The clerk was a good guy and was onside. I'd been buttering him up for ages. No chance of doing that with the cop. Newish in the post. His predecessor was a nasty piece of work and this man was the same. Two peas in a pod.

Then there was the licensing board itself. I knew they would be a tough nut to crack, and that's before you start talking about the convener, an ill tempered man. You had to walk on eggshells round him as he was liable to go bananas without warning.

I arrived at the board meeting. Smarmy KC was already there.  Not my favourite person but you had to respect the man's ability and calmness, always cool as a cucumber. He wanted to chew the fat, but I was preoccupied. Chief Super Tosser was there too, wanting to greet me and pretending to be nicy nicy. This is a man I really dislike.  I'd caught him out telling lies in the past. I gave him the cold shoulder. I'd like nothing more than to see him eating humble pie at the end of the day.

I won't bore you with the details. Smarmy was oily and eloquent. Our styles are chalk and cheese. Most of these Faculty boys and girls don't realise you have to treat board members as normal people, and not as a court of law. Anyway, I won. The client (let's call him D) was ecstatic, praising me to the eyeballs. People often do this until the fee note arrives. Phrases such as cream of the crop may have been bandied about, but I'm too modest to repeat them.

Save the fine words, D, I said. Just make sure the bill gets paid promptly. I've got to bring home the bacon.

I knew there were loads, but I didn't think I'd get 14 into a 330 word article. There might be one or two whose origins are unfamiliar.

Cold shoulder - at a feast of roasted meat in a medieval castle, the finest cuts would be served to the important guests. Shoulder meat can be wonderful braised, but roasted it is tough and unpleasant. If it's served cold, it's clearly low quality left overs, symbolising disrespect.

Humble pie - this should be umble pie. Umbles are the entrails of an animal, usually of a deer. If you are being served this dish, you're definitely below the salt.


  1. Janet Hood on 7th February 2024 at 7:46 pm

    And I suppose like the impecunious masseur you’ll be needing the dough!

  2. Michael Greenlaw on 7th February 2024 at 10:59 pm

    You knew which side your bread was buttered on right from the start, while I on the other hand was taking it with a pinch of salt – until I realised what was cooking.
    An excellent blog, as usual, I have no beef about that.

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