[Ads-l] Antedating "cut the mustard"

Dave Hause dwhause at CABLEMO.NET
Tue Jun 18 06:47:05 UTC 2019

I regret not managing to inherit a fine example of this sense of the idiom 
which Peter quotes, “to cut the mustard,” meaning, “to do what is required; 
prove satisfactory,” which my late grandmother-in-law gave my father:  A 
hand towel with a picture of a young woman in a skirt climbing a ladder to 
pick apples with an elderly man sitting in a chair watching appreciatively. 
Captioned, "When you're too old to cut the mustard, you can still lick the 
Dave Hause
-----Original Message----- 
From: Peter Reitan
Sent: Monday, June 17, 2019 1:57 PM
Subject: Antedating "cut the mustard"

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 

[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 

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

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