cut the mustard
Simon Tuppurainen
Anyone thought much about this one? I realise that it should be a North American expression, but any takers??
AdSumADS
Well, the "cut" alludes to "making the cut," and refers to any process wherein a population is put through trials, the inadequate eliminated -- that is, cut -- leaving the superior to have "made the cut."

One theory about "the mustard" is that it does indeed come from the American southwest circa 1880 -- from the cowboys, in particular -- and stems from the expression "the proper mustard." The condiment is prepared according to a variety of different recipes. "The proper mustard" referred to the preferred or superior variety of a given population. Thus, to "cut the mustard" is to qualify, but rings of the act of spreading the condiment. The Morris Dictionary voices this view.

An alternative origin of "the mustard" is that it's a bastardized version of "muster," which is a military term for a critical examination, as in "to pass muster," and puts it origin back a bit to the Civil War.

Lewis Joplin II
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..."


Simon Tuppurainen
Thank you for the prompt replies.
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