Deutsch, english, German, Language

10 Food Idioms in English

I write a lot about the German language in my blog, but whilst reading an article the other day and seeing the phrase “He was egged on”, it occurred to me how much fun the English language can be, too. To a non-native, you might look at the egg-sentence and wonder what the hell happened to him. Was an egg thrown at him? Did a chicken lay an egg on his head? (I mean, if you say “He was sh*t on”, that’s what it means, just poo instead of an egg, right?).

So I thought I’d branch out and grab hold of the beauty of the English language, starting off with phrases that use food words that actually have nothing to do with the food. I’ll write the German translation too, as according to my views I get a lot of viewers from Germany. Enjoy!

1. to egg somebody on
Rough meaning: “to encourage somebody”
Deutsch: “jemanden anstacheln”

As explained above, I read this one in an article. And it makes me start to feel sorry for non-native speakers who are learning English. This is definitely more of a colloquial phrase, but quite a nice one to know to make you sound that little bit more native.

2. to beef up
Rough meaning: “to make something stronger or more effective”
Deutsch: “etwas aufmotzen / verstärken / verbessern”

Whilst researching the definition of this one, it seems there’s more to it than I initially thought. I would use this phrase to refer to somebody who’s making himself or herself stronger by training their muscles and making them bigger – beefing them up. However, it seems it’s also used to generally make something better, such as a travel report or adding more spices to a soup to make it taste better. I’m learning some English myself here!

3. to chicken out
Rough meaning: “to get out of something, usually due to fear”
Deutsch: “sich verdrücken / den Schwanz einziehen”

What happens if you run up to a chicken? It runs away. Which is probably where this phrase comes from. You could use it, for example, if you decide to not go on a rollercoaster because you’re scared – you chickened out at the last minute. I also like one of the German translations, den Schwanz einziehen, which means “to put one’s tail in”, like a scared dog or something!

4. to fudge something up
Rough meaning: “to screw something up / to ruin something”
Deutsch: “etwas ruinieren”

Apparently, ‘to fudge something’ means ‘to make something up’ or ‘to deal with something in a vague or inadequate way’. But if you stick the ‘up’ on the end, you basically have a phrase which means you screwed something up. And I’m pretty sure the ‘fudge’ is a nice replacement for the bad f-word in English.

5. to spill the beans
Rough meaning: “to tell somebody all about something, often a secret”
Deutsch: “alles ausplaudern”

“Come on then, spill the beans!” is a phrase you may hear if somebody knows you’ve got a secret you’re hiding from them. It is a bit of a weird phrase though. Why beans? And what kind of beans are we talking about? Baked beans? Mmm… baked beans…

I’m glad Germany has picked up on baked beans, too.

6. to take something with a pinch of salt
Rough meaning: “to not believe everything one is told”
Deutsch: “alles nicht für bare Münze nehmen”

If somebody isn’t to be trusted too much, perhaps if he or she likes to exaggerate things a lot, you might be told to take what he or she says with a pinch of salt – in a sense of ‘just be aware half of what they’re saying is probably not the entire truth’. In German you apparently pretty much don’t take everything for money, which is also quite a nice phrase!

7. to butter somebody up
Rough meaning: “to be nice to somebody in order to get something from them”
Deutsch: “jemandem Honig ums Maul schmieren”

You use this phrase when you want to be nice to somebody for a particular reason – perhaps for something like money or a favour. In German you say “to smear honey around one’s mouth” which is a bit more aggressive (typical German), but I guess it does the trick!

8. to bring home the bacon
Rough meaning: “to earn money for the household”
Deutsch: “die Brötchen verdienen”

Generally, you say you go to work to “bring home the bacon”. I absolutely love that the Germans say “to earn the bread rolls”. Germans are so obsessed with bread!

9. to put all of one’s eggs in one basket

Rough meaning: “to put everything (such as money or hope) into one thing”
Deutsch: “alles auf ein Pferd setzen”

You tell somebody to not put all of their eggs in one basket if you believe they shouldn’t depend entirely on one thing, or not assume that that one thing is going to turn out well. An example would be if you were applying for jobs and you only apply for one job in the hope that you’ll get it – you shouldn’t put all of your eggs in one basket, and you should probably look for other jobs, too. In German, it’s apparently also possible to use the familiar phrase alle Eier in einen Korb legen, but Tim said he would rather say ‘to set everything on one horse’ – probably linking to betting on horse races, which actually makes complete sense!

I definitely didn’t put all my eggs in one basket when I did poach eggs for the first time. Surprisingly, the good one was my first attempt.
And this was my second attempt… Oops.

10. to spice something up
Rough meaning: “to make something more exciting”
Deutsch: “etwas mehr Würze verleihen”

This could be used to refer to food, to make something more spicy, as well as other things. You could say, for example, “we spiced up the party with some party games”. But, to be honest, when I was trying to think of an example then: I’m pretty sure the majority of examples have sexual connotations, so be careful when using this one. Apparently the German phrase can mean anything – to spice up a conversation, to spice up a party… – and there are no obvious sexual connotations at all. Rude English. Or maybe just rude me, I’m not sure.

Do you know any food idioms in English that don’t actually have anything to do with the food? Maybe there are some similar ones in German or another language you know? I’d be interested to hear them!

11 thoughts on “10 Food Idioms in English”

    1. Hi,
      I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the link, I had a good laugh at that. The last one is my favourite – I have a French friend who can’t seem to say the difference between beach and b*tch!

  1. I really like nr 4 and 5!
    I know another German one: “dorthin gehen wo der Pfeffer wächst”. If you want someone to piss off and at the same time put it mildly you say: “Geh dorthin wo der Pfeffer wächst!”

  2. Thanks for liking my post… I learned English at school,spoke French and Creole and a little Hindi at school and at home. I learned English and French poems by heart and also English idioms. ‘To butter your toast ‘ means to flatter you; ‘to butter and jam your toast ‘ means to flatter thoroughly and to add spice to this reply, ‘to butter your ‘chapatti'(Indian bread) means the same but to flatter thoroughly , it is ‘to butter your chapatti on both sides ‘ 😀

    1. Hi there!

      You’re welcome – thank you for reading my posts! Wow, it’s really amazing what idioms there are out there – I’ve never heard of quite a few of those! Learning languages is certainly a non-stop process… even if it’s your mother tongue!


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