Definition: To reach or exceed expectations or standards, often used negatively.

Example: Roger couldn’t cut the mustard and was eliminated from the World Tiddlywinks Championships in the first hour.


There have been many attempts to relate this phrase to ‘passing muster’, where soldiers are approved on the parade ground or by their skill set, but alas, that explanation hasn’t really gained any credible acceptance. It doesn’t seem to ‘cut the mustard’. Sorry. Just had to say it. There have also been suggestions that it might have to do with the actual harvesting of the crop, but yet again, there seems to be no basis for this.

It does seem to originate in late nineteenth century America, and come from the long established use of the word ‘mustard’ as a superlative. Its use meant to add spice or zing to something, just like the condiment itself. There are earlier related phrases: to be ‘keen as mustard’, or to be genuine and ‘proper mustard’.

The word itself comes from the Latin mustum, which in English became must, the juice squeezed from grapes before it is made into wine. Mustard gained its name because originally, its seeds were ground into paste with the must to make the condiment.

Give it a few minutes, but Iddy will eventually realise that to get into this particular big yellow bottle, all he needs to do is open the top and squeeze…