ANSWERS: 5
  • I've never heard that before
  • Meaning To succeed; to come up to expectations. Origin Why cutting mustard was chosen as an example of high quality is unclear. As always in such circumstances, there are no shortage of guesses. Some of these allude to the literal difficulty of cutting mustard in its various forms; for example: - Mustard seed, which is hard to cut with a knife on account of its being small and shiny. - Mustard plants, which are tough and stringy and grow densely. - Culinary mustard, which is cut (diluted) and made more palatable by the addition of vinegar. There is no evidence to support these derivations and they give the impression of having been retro-fitted in an attempt at plausibility. Another supposed explanation is that the phrase is simply a mistaken version of the military expression 'cut the muster'. This appears believable at first sight. A little research shows it not to be so. Muster is the calling together of soldiers, sailors, prisoners, to parade for inspection or exercise. To cut muster would be a breach of discipline; hardly a phrase that would have been adopted with the meaning of success or excellence. This line of thought appears to have been influenced by confusion with the term 'pass muster', which would have the correct meaning, but which could hardly be argued to be the origin of 'cut the mustard'. The OED, which is the most complete record of the English language, along with all of the other reference works I've checked, don't record 'cut the muster' at all. The fact that documented examples of 'cut the mustard' are known from many years before any for 'cut the muster' would appear to rule out the latter as the origin. There has been an association between the heat and piquancy of mustard and the zest and energy of people's behaviour. This dates back to at least 1672, when the term 'as keen as mustard' is first recorded. 'Up to mustard' or just 'mustard' means up to standard in the same way as 'up to snuff'. 'Cutting' has also long been used to mean 'exhibiting', as in the phrase 'cutting a fine figure'. Unless some actual evidence is found for the other proposed explanations, the derivation of 'cutting the mustard' as an alternative way of saying 'exhibiting one's high standards' is by far the most likely. Whatever the coinage, the phrase itself emerged in the USA towards the end of the 19th century. The earliest example in print that I've found is from The Iowa State Reporter, August 1897, in a piece about the rivalry between two Iowa towns: Dubuque had the crowds, but Waterloo "Cut the Mustard" The use of quotation marks and the lack of any explanation of the term in that citation imply that 'cut the mustard' was already known to Iowa readers and earlier printed examples may yet turn up. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/cut-the-mustard.html CUT THE MUSTARD -- From "Listening to America" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, 1982), "Mustard came into English in the 13th century from the French (going back to Latin mustum, grape juice, originally used for mixing ground mustard seeds into a paste). By the War of 1812 'mustard seed shot' was an American term for small-gauge shot. Between 1900 and 1910, when commercially bottled mustard became popular, 'mustard' appeared in several slang expressions that used the strength of the condiment as a metaphor: 'to be the proper mustard' meant to be the genuine article, 'to be all mustard' meant to be excellent, and 'to be up to the mustard' and 'to cut the mustard' both meant to come up to expectations. Since World War I the last expression has been used almost exclusively in the negative 'he can't cut the mustard' - and among many men is used to mean unable to have an erection, to be unable to perform sexually." From the "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" (Second Edition, HarperCollins, 1977) by William and Mary Morris: "cut the mustard -- was originally a Western expression, popular among cowboys during the late nineteenth century. If something was 'the proper mustard,' it was O.K., the genuine article. Andy Adams used the expression this way in his famous 'Log of a Cowboy,' when he wrote that 'for fear the two dogs were not the proper mustard, he had that dog man sue him in court to make him prove the pedigree.' And Carl Sandburg once wrote: 'Kid each other, you cheapskates. Tell each other you're all to the mustard." Then expression cut the mustard then came into vogue." http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/2/messages/198.html Perform satisfactorily, as in We need a better catcher; this one just doesn't cut the mustard. The origin of this expression is disputed. Some believe it alludes to mustard in the sense of the best or main attraction (owing to its spicing up food), whereas others believe it is a corruption of pass muster. Still others hold that it concerns the preparation of mustard, which involves adding vinegar to mustard seed to "cut" (reduce) its bitterness. The expression is often in negative form, as in the example. [Slang; c. 1900] Origin: 1904 In the twentieth century, Americans were able to cut the mustard, that is, "to do what is needed." The first evidence comes from O. Henry in 1904: "So I looked around and found a proposition that exactly cut the mustard." It is one of our most puzzling expressions. Does it have to do with cultivating or harvesting the mustard plant? Does it have to do with the slang expressions be the proper mustard, that is, "be the real thing," or be all to the mustard, "be very good"? Or might it mean "exceed the standard," where cut means "surpass" or "excel," and mustard is really the muster, or "examination," as in the old expression pass muster? All these explanations have been seriously advanced by those who cut the mustard in lexicography, but they are only guesses. Here are examples of other mustard expressions of the time. From Andy Adams, The Log of a Cowboy (1903): "For fear they were not the proper mustard, he had that dog man sue him in court for the balance, so as to make him prove the pedigree." And from H. McHugh, You Can Search Me (1905): "Petroskinski is a discovery of mine, and he's all to the mustard." http://www.answers.com/cut%20the%20mustard The origin of "cut the mustard," meaning "to measure up to standards" or "to be sufficient or successful in accomplishing a task," is the subject of a long-standing debate among language experts. We do know that "cut the mustard" first appeared in print in an O. Henry story in 1907 and has been in pretty constant use since then, but exactly to what mustard "cut the mustard" might refer is still up in the air. One theory is that "mustard" in the phrase should actually be, as you suggest, "muster," meaning "examination." To "muster" troops is to assemble them for inspection, those who meet the necessary standards then being said to have "passed muster." It is possible that "cut the mustard" is simply a mangled form of "cut the muster," with "cut" being used in the sense of "to manage" or "to surpass." One problem with this theory is the lack of any known use of the supposedly proper form "cut the muster" in print. It is also possible that "cut the mustard" refers to "cutting" (adulterating) mustard to make it less pungent, but this origin, as you note, seems unlikely because the idea of weakening strong mustard is almost completely opposite to the popular "strong enough" sense of "cut the mustard." And, since mustard plants are not notably difficult to harvest, it's not likely that "cut the mustard" refers to any special degree of agricultural stamina. Fortunately, there's a glimmer of sense in all this. Years before "cut the mustard" showed up to mystify us, "mustard" was being used as slang for "that which adds zest" or "the best of anything," obviously referring to real mustard. To "cut the mustard" would then logically mean "to match the best in any situation." http://www.word-detective.com/122099.html#cutmustard It seems that the phrase is of early twentieth-century US origin. The first recorded use of the phrase is by O Henry in 1907, in a story called The Heart of the West: “I looked around and found a proposition that exactly cut the mustard”. The modern sense of the idiom is “to succeed; to have the ability to do something; to come up to expectations”. But why that exact phrase, nobody seems to know. Cutting mustard is hardly an arduous endeavour, after all, and there seems not to be any older phrase to which it is related. One explanation that is sometimes given is that the phrase is a corrupted form of cut the muster, in some way connected with the military muster or assembly of troops for inspection. However, if you cut a muster, presumably you do not attend it, so how this can be connected with the idea of excellence is far from clear. The clinching argument for this not being the source is that nobody has found the supposedly original phrase cut the muster anywhere. It’s much more likely that it’s a development of the long-established use of mustard as a superlative, as in phrases such as keen as mustard. In the nineteenth century in America, mustard was used figuratively to mean something that added zest to a situation, and the proper mustard was something that was the genuine article. The move from genuine to excellent is just a short step. O Henry used the word in the sense of something excellent in Cabbages and Kings in 1904: “I’m not headlined in the bills, but I’m the mustard in the salad dressing just the same”. But how the idea of cutting the mustard became included are not known. As I can’t fully answer your question, let me present as a consolation prize the reason why mustard is so named. It derives from an ancient French way of making a hot condiment by grinding up the seeds of various members of the cabbage family in the freshly pressed juice of grapes, then called the moust (must in modern English). A French word moustarde appeared to describe this mixture, which was brought into English in the twelfth century and quickly settled to the modern spelling. (Luckily moust and moustarde shifted their spelling and pronunciation in the same direction down the years, so their connection is still obvious.) http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-cut1.htm
  • There has been an association between the heat and piquancy of mustard and the zest and energy of people's behaviour. This dates back to at least 1672, when the term 'as keen as mustard' is first recorded. 'Up to mustard' or just 'mustard' means up to standard in the same way as 'up to snuff'. 'Cutting' has also long been used to mean 'exhibiting', as in the phrase 'cutting a fine figure'. Unless some actual evidence is found for the other proposed explanations, the derivation of 'cutting the mustard' as an alternative way of saying 'exhibiting one's high standards' is by far the most likely.
  • The same place as "doth butter no parsnips". It's old English expressions for something "not good enough"
  • It sounds like someone who couldn't cook wrote it. She tried to make mustard and it come out hard as a rock. To wiggle out of the situation she called "campers rules." "It was supposed to be like that." Anyone who could cut it won first prize.

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