"cut the muster" (1912)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Jul 4 12:32:50 UTC 2011

A popular explanation for the idiom "cut the mustard" is that it derives
from "cut the muster" (related somehow to "pass muster"). The problem is
that the "muster" variant doesn't show up often, and not at all in the late
19th century when the "mustard" variant begins to appear. OED3 dates "cut
the mustard" from 1891, with a cite from the _Galveston (Texas) Daily News_.
(There are also a number of cites from 1891 in the _Omaha (Neb.) Morning
World-Herald_.) The earliest "cut the muster" I've found is from 1912:

1912 _The Illio_ (Univ. of Illinois) 527 C.A.A. track team can't cut the
muster. Beaten four points.

Anything earlier out there?


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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