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Food and Drink

Steering clear of that humble pie

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About a million years ago, Shakespeare wrote a powerful description of such lily-livered weaksters in The Merchant of Venice:

How many cowards, whose hearts are all as false

As stairs of sand, wear yet upon their chins

The beards of Hercules and frowning Mars,

Who, inward search'd, have livers white as milk.

Try that out on your hipster, goateed friend next time he chickens out on the Couloir.

Brewer also explains the symbolism of various animals. Some of the ones we eat include salmon, which symbolize fecundity, courage and wisdom; the ostrich, which symbolizes stupidity; bees, which stand for diligence, sociability and wisdom; and ducks, which mean happiness and fidelity. If you're into deeper meanings, you might think twice before you choose an ostrich steak, say, over roast duck.

"Bully beef" isn't tough beef. The expression means tinned corned beef and comes from the French " boeuf bouilli ", or "boiled beef". And "jerked beef" or "jerk" or "jerky" isn't some snack for jerks; the term is a corruption of " echarqui " from the Quechua, a people of the central Andes, and means to cut into strips and dry in the sun.

"Hodgepodge" originally meant a medley or mixed dish of "bits and pieces" all cooked together - a variant of "hotchpotch," from the French " hochepot, " from " hocher " ("to shake") and " pot " ("pot"), a thick broth containing meat, vegetables and other mixed ingredients.

And Ebenezer can tell you, too, that there really was an Earl Grey, for whom the bergamot-scented tea is named. Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey, was given the tea recipe by a Chinese mandarin whose life was saved by a British diplomat.

As for being the "apple of your eye" that comes from an outdated notion that the pupil of your eye was a solid, round ball like an apple. The phrase, which makes an appearance in Deuteronomy in the Bible, came to mean any person or thing that is precious or much loved.

Now, that was easy as pie, right? which means it was agreeably uncomplicated. No way this refers to making a pie, which takes time and effort. No, according to Ebenezer, "easy as pie" refers to eating a pie, ideally a good one, much like "piece of cake."