where does the phrase 'doesn't cut the mustard' derive from?

the phrase 'he doesn't cut the mustard' quite simply means, he hasn't got it, he can't do it, he doesn't have the balls to do it. But where did the phrase come from???

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  • 1 decade ago
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    This expression meaning “to achieve the required standard” is first recorded in an O. Henry story of 1902: “So I looked around and found a proposition [a woman] that exactly cut the mustard."

    It may come from a cowboy expression, “the proper mustard", meaning “the genuine thing", and a resulting use of “mustard” to denote the best of anything. O. Henry in Cabbages and Kings (1894) called mustard “the main attraction": “I’m not headlined in the bills, but I’m the mustard in the salad dressing, just the same.” Figurative use of “mustard” as a positive superlative dates from 1659 in the phrase “keen as mustard", and use of “cut” to denote rank (as in “a cut above” ) dates from the 18th century.

    Other theories are that it is a corruption of the military phrase "to pass muster” ("muster", from Latin _monstrare_="to show", means "to assemble (troops), as for inspection” ); that it refers to the practice of adding vinegar to ground-up mustard seed to “cut” the bitter taste; that it literally means “cut mustard” as an example of a difficult task, mustard being a relatively tough crop that grows close to the ground; and that it literally means “cut mustard” as an example of an easy task (via the negative expression “can’t even cut the mustard” ), mustard being easier to cut at the table than butter.

    The more-or-less synonymous expression “cut it” (as in “” sorry” doesn’t cut it” ) seems to be more recent and may derive from "cut the mustard".

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    This alludes to the piquancy and zest of mustard. 'Up to mustard' or just 'mustard' meant good quality in the same way as 'up to snuff'. Cutting the mustard is just a variant of the same notion. It is recorded inthe 1905 edition of 'Dialect Notes':

    "Cut the mustard, to succeed. 'But he couldn't cut the mustard.'"

    Try this link for any other phrases. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/index.html

  • 1 decade ago

    The earliest recorded use of the phrase (albeit in a positive sense) was 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”. However, nobody seems sure of the origin. Among the theories in circulation are:

    That it comes from an old western expression, the proper mustard, meaning "the real thing" at first and then "the best". There is a suggestion that the use of mustard as a positive superlative dates from 1659 in the phrase "keen as mustard", and the use of cut to denote rank (as in "a cut above") dates from the 18th century.

    That it comes from separate meanings of both cut and mustard. Donald Graeme in his Dictionary of Modern Phrase says cut in this sense derives from its meaning of "to perform or achieve", and mustard is "hot or sharp", both of which adjectives have come to mean "able and clever".

    That it comes from the Latin monstrare "to show", as in the military phrase "to pass muster", i.e. to show up on the parade ground and not be found wanting in any particular.

  • 5 years ago

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    RE:

    where does the phrase 'doesn't cut the mustard' derive from?

    the phrase 'he doesn't cut the mustard' quite simply means, he hasn't got it, he can't do it, he doesn't have the balls to do it. But where did the phrase come from???

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  • 6 years ago

    In California we had a small ranch that wild mustard grew on the steep hillside every year like weeds. In fact much of the yellow wild flowers all over the foothills in the spring are in fact wild mustard plants. It has a very tough stalk, very difficult to cut. I had several different weed whackers over the years that "couldn't cut the mustard". My best weed whacker "could cut the mustard".

  • 1 decade ago

    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.

  • 1 decade ago

    To indicate that the source is unreliable, you would say it either doesn't "pass muster" or doesn't "cut the mustard", the former being more correct in formal language.

  • 1 decade ago

    The origin, as they say, is shrouded in mystery.

    Here's a brief discussion of where it might have come from:

    http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-cut1.htm

  • 1 decade ago

    from when the mustard was in a solid block and the blunt knives couldent get through it they hadnt got the balls so they needed to bring in a sharper knife

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    well. one would have to use the other phrase then.

    "You can still lick the jar".

    .

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