cut the mustard

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jul 21 06:42:32 UTC 2011

I would like to renew my question as to whether "pass muster" and "cut [the]
muster" came from the same sources and thus would be equally likely or
unlikely to be transformed into "cut the/much mustard". My earlier
suggestion was that "pass muster" predictably relates to the sense of
"muster" related to parades or shows, while "cut [the] muster" identifies
with the initially Anglo-Indian use of "muster" as a standard (probe?
French: etalon?). Musters were physically cut from ends of blocks of
precious metals and smelted to determine purity. So "cut the muster" would
imply that the object "tested adequately" or "measured up". If this
interpretation is correct, the presence of "cut much mustard" would not
affect the derivation from "cut the muster", while it would negate the
derivation from "pass muster".

I still don't believe that the metaphorical expression "cut the mustard"
would have been derived from any actual cutting of mustard plants or making
mustard paste from grain or powder, as the two meanings are simply far


On Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 2:23 AM, Garson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at>wrote:

> While searching for examples of "cut the mustard" I found some
> examples of "cut much mustard." This phrasing makes the interpretation
> of "mustard" based on "pass muster" unlikely, I think, within the
> thoughts of these particular early writers.
> Cite: 1901 July 5, Kansas City Star, Advertisement for: The Depot
> Carriage and Baggage Co., Page 5, Column 6, Kansas City, Missouri.
> (GenealogyBank)
> A girl gets tired of sitting on the front porch night after night with
> no other entertainment than your low, musical voice. You may swear by
> yonder moon that she is the onlyest only, but every woman takes that
> for granted anyhow, and so you can't cut much mustard on that [?]ay.
> I am not certain what the [?] character is in the page image. It looks
> like an "l".
> ...

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