Interjections from Food Terms

The Merriam-Webster guide to spitting out food words


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Photo: BWFolsom

Definition: interjection used to express disbelief

Baloney is thought to have originated as a variant of bologna (“a large smoked sausage of beef, veal, and pork”) in the early 20th century. Our earliest written evidence, found in a 1921 newspaper article from Altoona, Pennsylvania (written in mock-colloquial form) supports this: “We got here Saturday afternoon and got the best place in the camp which is right near the stashun wheir there is lots of janes that rolls their own kums down from lebunun where they make baloney and the janes aint got far to come to see us.”

By the late 1920s baloney (which is also spelled as boloney) was being used to indicate that the speaker felt some matter was nonsense.

It is perfectly proper
For English students
To indulge occasionally
In: “Oh, baloney!”
”It’s a lot of bunk”
And “I’ll say so,”
So long as they never
Split their infinitives.
Elmira Star-Gazette (Elmira, NY), 14 Sept. 1928

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Definition: usually used as a farewell, sometimes as a greeting or a toast

Cheerio is a decidedly British interjection, and Cheerios are a decidedly North American breakfast cereal. Despite this disparity of geography, mustn't​ they be connected? After all, the words are spelled nearly identically. We here at Merriam-Webster, destroyers of childhood dreams, regret to inform you that there does not appear to be much of an etymological connection between the mildly sodden cereal your child likes to eat and the mildly annoying habit that one friend of your has (you know, the one who insists on using Briticisms). The interjection comes from attaching an O to the word cheery. The cereal, on the other hand, began its life with a slightly different name, being marketed in 1941 as Cheerioats. Within a few years, the makers of Cheerioats apparently decided that it would be better to disguise the fact that they were selling something healthy to children, and the name was changed to Cheerios.

Mrs Akimu said, 'This party---why don't you go with your partners?'
Akimu and I both laughed. We said cheerio, and got into the cab.
—Aubrey Kachingwe, No Easy Task, 1968

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Photo: arsenisspyros

Definition: used to express surprise or chagrin

Who doesn’t love crumbs? Most people, actually. And when we ask the question ‘where does the interjection crumbs come from,’ we have a wide range of possibilities to choose from. Is it a shortened form of crumbs-in-the-bed? No. Is it an abbreviation of the 19th century Cornwall dialect word crum-a-grackle (defined by Joseph Wright in his English Dialect Dictionary as “a mess, difficulty, bother”)? Probably not, although this is a word we should all consider adopting in everyday use. Might it simply be a variant of the phrase “By crum!” in which crum was employed as a mild oath of uncertain provenance? That is the least satisfying answer, which of course means that it is the most likely to be true.

The agreement was for an afternoon in the woods; but, by Crum! sir, the’ve sat there and held one another’s hand for pretty well an hour after the stated time.
The Speaker (London, UK), 7 Mar. 1891

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Definition: used as an interjection to express surprise or excitement

The use of words appended to holy doubtless reached its apotheosis in the late 1960s, throughout the three-year run of the television series Batman, during which the character of Robin (played by Burt Ward) uttered well over 300 variations of "Holy (X), Batman!" Few of these became fixed phrases in our language. At least two holy interjections may be said to potentially deal with food (although Robin did not actually say them during the series): holy cow and holy mackerel. Of the two, holy mackerel appears to be older, in use since at least 1851 (an article from that year in a Missouri newspaper contains the line "'by the holy mackerel;' (his favorite attestation) 'turn out boys, turn out!'"

A few short days ago…and now…
Great geewhillickers! Holy cow!
J. P. McEvoy, The Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, IA), 31 Dec. 1923

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Definition: used to express approval or gratification

It is unclear why hot dog should have found new life as an interjection (and as a verb) while poor hamburger is restricted to being used solely as a noun. Hot dog began being used as a term for the frankfurter around the 1880s, and by the early 20th century had added the exclamatory role to its repertoire.

”Hot dog!” exclaimed a young woman in a flapper suit, who was “shifter shuffling” her way through the party, “Some statue!”
The Bridgeport Telegram (Bridgeport, CT), 22 Apr. 1922

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Definition: interjection used to express anger, disappointment, etc.

Nuts has been employed as an interjection to express strong feelings of one sort or another since at least the beginning of the 20th century. Perhaps its most famous use was General McAuliffe’s response given to a German demand for surrender in the Second World War. According to legend, the American general’s response, except for the beginning (“To the German Commander”) and end (“The American Commander”), relied on this single word.

Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe it was disclosed, was the commander of the gallant Bastogne garrison of about 10,000 men—the commander who said “Nuts” to a German demand that he surrender.
New York Herald Tribune, 30 Dec. 1944

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Definition: a mild oath

There have been a great number of ways that the English speaking people have used od as a stand-in for God (or, as the Oxford English Dictionary memorably puts it, as a “euphemistic substitute for God in asseverative or exclamatory formulae”). Odsfish, which is the less-common variant of odds fish, is thought to be a euphemistic way of saying "God's fish." If odsfish is too commonplace, you may instead use odsbodikins or odzookers.

Ay, ay, trust to that, and hang me, quoth Panurge, yours is a very pretty Fancy; Od's Fish, did I not give you a sufficient account of the Elements Transmutation, and the Blunders that are made of Roast for Boyld, and Boyld for Roast?
François Rabelais, Pantagruel’s Voyage to the Oracle of the Bottle (trans. by P. A. Motteux), 1694

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Photo: Magone

Definition: used to express disgust or vexation

The use of sugar to indicate that one has stubbed one’s toe, or accidentally stabbed one’s finger with the salad fork, is thought to have originated from the word sharing its initial sound with another, well-known, expletive. Do not let its potentially vulgar background dissuade you from using it when needed; it is a euphemism, after all, and our language is rich with words that have been cleaned up enough that you can say them in front of your grandparents, or grandchildren.

A Buffalo reporter rode with a Hackman one whole day to count his oaths, and was completely disgusted to find that the average Hackman uses no language stronger than “Oh, sugar!”
The Detroit Free Press, 1 Feb. 1882




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