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25 Feb. “To cut the mustard.” What are the origins of this expression?

This English expression is used although it is not commonplace, particularly in spoken language.


The expression is used to denote the act of being successful. Generally it relates to the ability to meet expectations in being good enough to compete or participate in something such as a race.


There is no definite origin of this expression although there are many suggestions regarding why it came to be used. A number of these expressions suggest that the phrase relates to the difficulty of the literal cutting of mustard seeds which are extremely small and slippery and thus are difficult to cut up. There is however no evidence to prove that this is where the expression derives from and thus many suggest that it is came into use simply from the mispronunciation of the American expression “to cut the muster.” This expression was used in a military context when a soldier breached the rules. Therefore it does not have a positive connotation in the same way as the expression “to cut the mustard.”


An example of the use of this expression can be found in a quote by British television and radio presenter Jonathan Dimbleby. He stated “until I was 21, I wasn’t going into the media. I was a professional show jumper; I was going to have a farm… Then my father died, and it changed my life. I realised I had to have a go at being a journalist to see if I could cut the mustard.”

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