"Doesn't Cut the Mustard" - Origin?

Where does the phrase “That doesn’t cut the mustard” meaning “that isn’t good enough” come from?

Yeah! Isn’t mustard a liquid, or at least a semi-solid. How would you cut the mustard anyways?

“I think he said ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.’”

I’m willing to bet that it is “doesn’t cut the muster” with a d added on by people mishearing it. The explanation I always heard, which I don’t believe, is that mustard, being liquid, is easy to cut, and thus if something can’t even cut mustard it is really lame.

The explanation I do believe, is that cutting muster is a military term meaning “pass inspection”. You can’t cut muster if your boots aren’t shined, you’re a slouch, or you forgot to trim your nosehair (the latter only matters for the Home Guard). Something else that can’t cut muster is a failure for whatever relevant reason.

Growing up, “cutting mustard” was synonymous with “cutting the cheese”; i.e., farting, especially smelly farts.

Bit of additional light:


Thanks omniscientnot… I tried a web search and got too many hits to be useful and it didn’t… well… cut the mustard. Your site had a link to the alt.english.usage faq that looks like it may be useful in the future.

I always thought it was “Cut the muster”. Still doesn’t really make sense, but I thought it was like trying to muster up the courage. Oh well.

For years I always wondered what intensive purposes were. As in “for all intensive purposes”. Only later did I realize that it was “Intents and purposes”


There are two phrases: “Doesn’t cut the mustard” and “Doesn’t pass muster.” The origins link cited above offers one theory that “cut the mustard” was derived from “pass muster.”

Originally mustus was Latin for new wine, which was used in mixing paste. Hence, the word “mustard.”

We aim to please, tan.

I’ll set aside a week-end to go through Mark Israel’s page :smiley: The guy takes this stuff seriously…

Thanks for enlightening me on something I’ve wondered about before. The muster theory works for me. Similar to the reason people use the nonsensical word irregardless. The word regardless means irrespective.

The one that gets me is ‘Wa-Lah!’ instead of ‘Voila!’. I mean, it’s usually just ignorance, and that’s sometimes forgivable.

But I learned the facts of that one when I was a little kid, so sometimes it irks me that a 35 year old would still get it wrong.

And is it ‘When worse gets to worst’? Or ‘worst gets to worst’ (which doesn’t make much sense) or something else? I see that in variation even in novels, proving an Editor isn’t doing their job.

“Waheeey! ‘Duck!’ Get it?”
“Errr… No…”
“Duck! Sounds almost exactly like fu-”

GuanoLad, you would really get irked around here - ‘Wal-lah’ is a favorite expression. Not out of ignorance - it’s a Southern thang. We’uns mispronounce stuff on purpose just to annoy the damyankees.

The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best. - Henry Van Dyke

I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned the old song that says “He’s too old to cut the mustard any more”. I don’t remember any more lyrics, but, IIRC, I never thought that he and the lady in question were talking about sandwiches. Some of those old songs got pretty rude without actually saying anything explicit.

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”

Additional little tidbit.


And, as an added bonus for rjk:


GuanoLad, as I see it, the expression is “When worst comes to worst.” i.e. when the potential worst actualizes as the real thing, well, you’re fucked.

Thanks, Omni!

It’s not nearly as risque as I thought I remembered, though a lot of those songs were cleaned up for some recordings. Maybe I remember hearing another version, or just had it confused with one or more others.

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”