This week, we feature some lighthearted summer fare by looking at expressions that include the word mustard. According to linguist and author Michael Quinion, the word mustard has a long-established use as a superlative. This is corroborated in Brewerâ€™s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by John Ayto, which cites slang use of mustard in O. Henryâ€™s 1894 story, Cabbages and Kings.
To help us understand mustard expressions even further, we thought weâ€™d talk to a true expert in the field. Barry Levenson is the author of three books, and heâ€™s also the founder and curator of the Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.
â€œMustard is a very sharp flavor, so itâ€™s easy to put it into language,â€ Levenson explains, â€œjust as things that are dramatic in their very nature tend to crawl into the language.â€
Levenson describes expressions such as the proper mustard (the genuine article), to be all the mustard (essentially, to be good) and to cut the mustard (to do a task well).
And English isnâ€™t the only language where mustard has worked its way into the idiom. Levenson tells us that in French, the expression La moutarde me monte au nez (literally, â€œMustard is climbing up my noseâ€) is a saying that means, â€œIâ€™m very angry.â€
As the author of the book The Seventh Game: The 35 World Series That Have Gone the Distance, itâ€™s clear that Levensonâ€™s other passion is baseball. In the interview, Levenson gives an example of a linguistic intersection of mustard and baseball thatâ€™s often heard during broadcasts of games.
Beyond mustard, Levenson describes his current work to promote adjectives and adverbs through an adopt-a-word initiative. â€œA lot of people say that nouns and verbs are all you need to express yourself,â€ he says. â€œBut without adjectives and adverbsâ€”used judiciously, of courseâ€”I think language would be very boring. If you think of it, adjectives and adverbs are the condiments of the language.â€
Levenson says itâ€™s always a pleasure talking about words. â€œThere are few tools we have,â€ he says. â€œWe have got 26 letters of the alphabet, spaces and a handful of punctuation marks. What we do with them is up to us.â€
Sources: Michael Quinion's World Wide Words; Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by John Ayto. Also referenced: The Seventh Game: The 35 World Series That Have Gone the Distance by Barry Levenson.
Link: The Mustard Museum