[Ads-l] Antedating "cut the mustard"

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 17 18:57:45 UTC 2019

I previously posted on my blog about early uses of "cut the mustard."


The earliest examples I had found were from 1886, and all of the early examples were from Missouri, and most related to politics.

I recently ran across an earlier example of "Cut the Mustard" in a Kansas newspaper in 1884, crediting an Independence, Missouri newspaper.

The expression appears in a headline - not explained, as though it would be understood.

[Begin Excerpt]

The prohibition convention at Pittsburgh last week nominated St. John for president, notwithstanding he declared he did not want it.  The only thing they seem to hope to accomplish is the defeat of the republican party, and in this they will fail most gloriously. - Independence Tribune.
[End Excerpt]
Burden Saturday Journal (Burden, Kansas), August 14, 1884, page 2.

In one of my blog posts I suggested that the idiom was meant to suggest that people who "cut the mustard" are people who can get the job done, as with people who can literally cut the mustard from their fields.  Perhaps from local politicians tasked with ensuring that people meet their legal obligations to cut wild mustard from their property.

An example discussing the literal cutting of mustard plants from wheat or other grain crops, may illustrate what cutting mustard was like.

In California in 1884, grain crops were reported as growing so high that people tasked with cutting mustard from the fields couldn't see over the crops to see the mustard they were to cut.

[Begin Excerpt]
In Contra Costa county, the Antioch Ledger says, "it is difficult to find men tall enough to see to cut mustard." The same journal chronicles the interesting fact that a farmer "has had to discharge a number of mustard cutters because they were too short to see over his grain."  This indicates that the labor question may be unusually complicated this season.
[End Excerpt]
San Francisco Examiner, June 8, 1884, page 5.

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list