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OPINION: Keeping this gravy train rollin'

by Bernadette Kinlaw | May 17, 2021 at 1:56 a.m.

I'm back for a second week of food-related terms that have journeyed from their origin.


I've never been too fond of gravy, so I wouldn't buy a ticket to ride a gravy train.

Gravy is, of course, that sauce made from the juices that appear when you cook meat. It also means a bonus that you didn't have to work for too hard, or something that turns out to be far better than you expected.

I struggled to come up with an example of gravy in that second sense. I received the CD of "The Boy From Oz," and after belting out every tune from the play, I learned it had a bonus track. That was just gravy.

I told you I was struggling.

A gravy train is an implausible vehicle that brings this gravy to you. The Washington Post wrote of ITT Technical Institutes and its gravy fondness.

"ITT had years to clean up its act and multiple warnings, but instead, it chose to engage in outright fraud to keep the gravy train going to the tune of over $600 million in taxpayer dollars just last year."

I'm thinking now that gravy train isn't a real thing at all (beyond the dog food Gravy Train). It's only a metaphor.


I love William Shakespeare's words for innocent times:

My salad days

When I was green in judgment, cold in blood.

If only my salads inspired me to create such imagery.


Pork is, of course, the meat that comes from pigs and hogs.

I checked on whether pigs and hogs truly eat tons of food. I found the answer on Hogs, Pigs and Pork, a website I most definitely never expected to visit. Apparently, a pig weighing about 200 pounds eats about 6 pounds of food a day.

But a person who eats a lot could be called either a pig or a hog. Or that person is porking out or pigging out. I didn't say these names were kind.

A pork barrel was how excess pork would be stored in the 19th century or so. Pork and pork barrel have come to mean government money that goes for local projects. It's normally hidden somewhere in legislation. If you're from Nebraska and your Congress member secures something for your county or state, you think the notion of pork barrel spending is pretty good. A person in one state might love pork spending for his own state, but not for spending in other states. I suppose the concept of pork barrel fits neatly into the phrase "it's all relative."

Pork butts are not what you might think. The cut of meat is taken from the pig's upper shoulder, not its hindquarters. You might slow-cook it and get a delectable treat.

When I worked for community sections of one newspaper, a recurring fundraiser featured pork butts, which was always giggle-inducing. I have seen some funny T-shirts having to do with the funny name. "I like my butt rubbed." (With rubbing spices, naturally.) "I like pig butts and I cannot lie." A barbecue place boasts: "You can smell our butts for miles." Or, "We have the best butts in town."

The phrase "living high on the hog" doesn't mean you camp out on a pig's neck. The Phrase Finder offers one explanation but doesn't seem confident in the provenance:

"The best cuts of meat on a pig come from the back and upper leg and that the wealthy ate cuts from 'high on the hog', while the paupers ate belly pork and trotters."


I'm sorry to even mention tripe. The animal-related tripe is the rubbery lining of the stomach of cattle or other ruminants, used as food.

Mmm. Rubbery food.

Tripe, fittingly, has also come to mean something of no value, or rubbish.

I found an example in The Washington Post:

"To their credit, the Nationals have largely dismissed the 'no one believed in us' tripe sometimes embraced by teams that were written off. Rather, they have wrapped themselves more in 'we believed in ourselves,' which of course matters more anyway."

Offal is related to tripe. It's "a general term for any parts of the animal's innards which are not the conventional cuts from the muscle and bone. It would vary by cuisine, but could include liver, kidneys, heart, brains, stomach, or tongue. In fact, tripe is a kind of offal."

And offal is also a synonym for rubbish. I always enjoy saying, "Offal is awful."


Sardines are silvery fish cured in salt or oil. You're most likely to find them in rectangular cans.

I had never realized that the name likely came from the Greek word for the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. But a website on modern Sardinia says the island is no longer known for sardines, and current cuisine rarely includes sardines. I guess they were cured of their fish dependency.

Would you believe I was talking to a friend recently about sardines? He said he hasn't seen anyone eat sardines for ages. "Nourish" by WebMD calls sardines an inexpensive, healthy food. CNBC even found a millionaire who eats five cans of sardines a day. Does this mean sardines make you rich? You decide.

Because of the cramped conditions in a sardine tin, packed like sardines has come to describe people crammed into a tight space. The first example I can think of is people in a subway car during rush hour. (This was pre-covid, of course.) Clowns seem to enjoy squishing into a clown car so people will laugh. Clowns get far more cramped than sardines, though, because sardines aren't normally saddled with red noses, big shoes or funny wigs.


Another often-delicious fruit is the peach. But a peach also can be a sweet person.

"You washed all my dishes? You're a real peach.'

Admittedly, I haven't used peach in that way.

The British have a different use for peach. It's a verb meaning to tattle on someone.

The origin is unrelated to the fruit but is still fun. Its Middle English root means to accuse. That root is where impeach comes from. I did not see that coming.


One of my favorite food words is legume. Why has its use not expanded to other areas? I have long advocated that Mr. Peanut's title should be elevated to spokeslegume.

That was fun. Thanks for tolerating such tripe.

Sources include Merriam-Webster, The American Heritage Dictionary, The Phrase Finder, StackExchange, CBNC, Total Sardinia, Hogs, Pigs and Pork. Reach Bernadette at

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