He didn’t make the mustard

This nice alliterative mixed idiom was heard on a podcast. It is a congruent conflation of “did not cut the mustard” and “did not make the cut”, both meaning something that is not at an acceptable level or standard. “Cut” is in both phrases, contributing to the mashup no doubt.

Where does the phrase “cut the mustard” come from? Here are two possibilities:

  • WHEN MUSTARD was one of the main crops in East Anglia, it was cut by hand with scythes, in the same way as corn. The crop could grow up to six feet high and this was very arduous work, requiring extremely sharp tools. When blunt they “would not cut the mustard”. All this and everything else you could ever want to know about mustard can be found at the Mustard Museum in Norwich.Phil Pegum, Stretton, Cheshire (phil.pegum@bbc.co.uk)
  • THE MORRIS Dictionary of Word & Phrase Origins (Harper Collins – 1988), relates the phrase to an earlier expression – “the proper mustard”, meaning “the genuine article”. Around the turn of the century, “to cut the mustard” meant to be “of high quality”, as when O. Henry said of a pretty girl that “she cut the mustard all right”. It is probably mere salaciousness which had me hunting through various lexicographical tomes in search of a connection, however tenuous, with the list of words cited by Jonathon Green in Slang Through the Ages (NTC, 1997), a list which included mustard-and-cress, lawn, grass, lawn, stubble and, most enduringly, bush.Eoin C. Bairiad Dublin, Ireland (ebairead@indigo.ie)

A big thanks to Verbatim who heard this one and sent it in.


2 Comments on “He didn’t make the mustard”

  1. verbatim says:

    “Cut the mustard” may also be related to “pass muster”


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