Culture revolves around food and language, which makes sense, because early humans more than likely formed their communities to keep themselves fed, among other slightly less vital reasons.
Language is also saturated with food-related expressions and idioms, which also makes sense, because the advent of communication was largely a survival tactic.
Today, our lives and our culture continue to revolve around food and language, and this makes sense, because eating will never not be fun. Many languages are loaded with food idioms that reflect the local cuisine, because why wouldn’t they be?
Here’s a closer look at a few of the links uniting food and language.
Relationships Between Food and Language
German & Sausage
How do Germans love their sausage? Let me count the ways.
The German language is chock full of expressions alluding to sausage, pork and swine. As it so happens, pork is the most heavily consumed meat in Germany, eaten at a rate of 79.8 pounds per citizen annually in 2016, according to Agriculture Market Information Co. However, this is actually an 11-year low, and the trend was poised to continue in that direction in 2017.
Though pork represents more than half the total amount of meat eaten in Germany, changing attitudes about health and the environment are contributing to the decline.
Even if Germans continue to trade in their steak knives for salad tongs, the preponderance of bratwurst idioms will never die. Here’s a (hardly exhaustive) list, several of which were borrowed from this first-person BBC editorial.
Schweinewetter: Pig weather (bad weather)
Schweinegeld: Pig money (a lot of money)
Schweine or Sau before any word, generally: An intensifier
Alles hat ein Ende; nur die Wurst hat zwei: Everything has an end; only the sausage has two (this too shall pass)
Das ist mir Wurscht: It’s sausage to me (an expression of disinterest; “it’s all the same to me”)
Es geht um die Wurst: It’s about the sausage (it’s urgent; now or never)
Die Wurst vom Teller ziehen: Someone who can barely steal sausage from a plate (of underwhelming competence)
Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen: To be an offended liver sausage (to sulk or be needlessly upset)
Extrawurst braten: Fry someone an extra sausage (give preferential treatment)
French & Fromage
It’s no secret that the French love their dairy products. According to food blogger Dominique Cachat, the French have a different cheese for every day of the year.
Statistically, French people are among the world’s cheese-eating heavyweights. According to data from the Canadian Dairy Information Centre, French people consumed 60 pounds of cheese per person in 2016, coming in after Denmark (61.9), Iceland (61.1) and Finland (60.2).
Anyway, here are some French food and language expressions that involve dairy.
Mettre du beurre dans les épinards: To add butter to the spinach (to earn some extra money)
En faire tout un fromage: To make a cheese of it (to exaggerate or blow things out of proportion)
Ferme ta boîte à Camembert!: Shut your smelly Camembert mouth!
Être soupe au lait: To be like milk soup (flies off the handle easily)
Ne pas avoir inventé le fil à couper le beurre: You did not invent the thread that cuts the butter (you’re not that smart)
Triste comme un repas sans fromage: Sad like a meal without cheese
Italian & Carbs
Italian food tends to stick to your ribs, and this bread and pasta-centric cuisine is deeply satisfying in a way that your juice fast will never be.
Basically, bread has been a staple of Italian cuisine since the days of the Roman Empire.
Italians treat bread a little differently than Americans do, however. For one, they generally don’t eat it at the beginning of their meal. Pasta comes before the entree, and then bread is used as a tool for mopping up any leftover sauce: as they call it, fare la scarpetta (do the little shoe). Note: this act is best done at home, and not in public or polite company.
In the meantime, see how food and language are baked together in Italian with some bread-related idioms for you to chew on.
Essere buono come il pane: To be as good as bread (kind of like “good as gold” in English)
Avere le mani in pasta: To have your hands in dough (like “having your hand in too many pies”)
Portare a casa la pagnotta: Bring the loaf home (like “bring home the bacon”)
Rendere pan per focaccia: To give bread for focaccia (an eye for an eye; to exact one’s revenge)
Se non è zuppa è pan bagnato: If it’s not soup, it’s wet bread (there’s practically no difference)
Chi ha il pane non ha i denti, chi ha i denti non ha il pane: He who has bread has no teeth, and he who has teeth has no bread (he who has the means lacks the will to do something, but he who has the will doesn’t have the means)
Hindi & Mangoes
The mango is native to South Asia, and it is the national fruit of India, Pakistan and the Philippines.
For many Indians, the mango is more than just a tasty fruit that happens to be excellent as a lassi.
The mango is known as the “king of fruit,” enjoyed by people from every social class, especially in scorching hot weather. Classical literature and poetry is full of references to the mango, a symbol of love and fertility. Mango leaves are also used during Hindu ceremonies, and the fruit holds significance for Buddhist and Jain traditions.
Naturally, the Hindi language includes a number of mango idioms as well.
Aam ke aam gutliyon ke daam: To sell not only mangoes, but also their pits (for when you make a really smart/profitable deal)
Paka aam: Ripe mango (an elderly/experienced person)
Sasta aam: Cheap mango (inexpensive, good deal, readily available)