August 19, 2022
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
By this time of the summer, I am always awash in fruit. I love it…and I hate it. Harvesting your own produce is time sensitive, messy, and exhausting. Yet there is nothing that I love better in this world than homemade peach pie and homemade peach jam. Overflowing trees leads to an overflowing kitchen, for which I am blessed.
This year, while making jam…a task which allows for serious contemplation…I started a running list of phrases that revolve around fruit. As the list grew, so did my curiosity in figurative language. Metaphors offer endless fun, and so my list evolved from fruits to puns, polysemous connotations which range from cultural markers and literary citations. Food is universally delightful because it creates deep personal connections. Interestingly, and this says something about human culture, fruit often makes a saucy metaphor, if you get my drift. Where literal speech would be a bit bored, flat, or overly direct, metaphor opens the door to analogy, ambiguity, play, sexual connotations, and more. Go no farther than the likes of Chaucer and Shakespeare for a little naughty humor at the expense of the fruit.
I created this list of idioms simply out of curiosity and wanderings, but you may want to add a phrase or two in the comments. There are plenty left: apple of my eye, the Big Apple, a bad apple, a bad seed, the top banana, the cherry on top, I don’t give a fig, sour grapes, fruit loop, fruitcake, and on and on!
1] You’re a peach or peachy-keen: I begin with peaches because, of course, I have so many stewing in my kitchen at present. The comparison of a nice, sweet, or desirable person to a peach began around 1600. It probably initiated from a sincere comparison, but has grown into the opposite as well. One can say with all sincerity that someone is a peach, and it will still mean very sweet. On the other hand, a slight change of tone, and that comment can just as easily be sarcastic. Perhaps due to its overly-saccharine nature peachy lends itself to sarcasm and satire. In other words, before you hit send on that peach emoji, understand that your meaning could be misinterpreted!
2] Cool as a cucumber: This phrase literally means that someone can keep cool under pressure. Though it was likely in use before this, one of the first written citations dates back to poet John Gay’s “New Song on New Similes.” The same lines crop up in the music of John Watts, also in 1730, which mirrors the poem.
How this phrase comes about, however, is more of a mystery. Cucumbers may actually be cooler than the surrounding air since they are about 95% water, which heats more slowly than air. This notion is often disputed, however, due to the vague language and lack of scientific studies. Rather than temperature, though, the phrase actually means calm, and is not necessarily related to temperature. Though “cool as a cucumber” comes from England, it has traveled the English speaking world and is alive and well today. I have to thank bunnytrailspod.com for some of their research into cucumbers….particularly this music video by Macka B which celebrates the glorious cucumber.
3] Cherry-pick: The final phrase in the list, to “cherry-pick,” means to select only the best from a larger sample. It implies greed and selfishness. Though Merriam-Webster claims the first usage was in 1965, it is likely that the phrase existed for quite some time prior to that. The most unique claim regarding this phrase came from IdiomOrigins.com. They suggest that British sailors began using the phrase as early as the 19th century to describe the sailors who selected the easiest jobs first.
So, in summary, all I can say is, go ahead…play with your fruit!
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