Archive | December, 2009

The Language of Food

Holiday eating season is upon us, and with it, the strange language of food. Many people were “talking turkey” on Thanksgiving. Perhaps someone is threatening to “cook your  goose” for another holiday meal.  Whatever is on your menu, here’s a quick primer on some of the  food-related phrases that flavor our conversations  at the dinner table and beyond.

Let’s talk turkey.” Some sources attribute this expression, meaning “let’s get down to business,” to a story about a Pilgrim and a Native American  dividing up the spoils from a hunt. But according to Common Phrases and Where They Come From, by Myron Korach, the phrase more likely originated with modern day turkey hunters. Those who most successfully imitated turkey calls,  attracting the birds to shooting distance, were getting down to business by “talking turkey.”

Gravy train.” The term was born in the 1920s, when railroad workers dubbed easy runs that paid well “gravy trains.”  As an expression, gravy refers to an extra benefit that comes without much extra work. (Why You Say It, by Webb Garrison.).

To cook [someone's] goose” means to ruin someone’s plans. Sources do not agree on the origin of this phrase.  Here are some theories:

  • A goose that is being fattened for a special occasion is killed and eaten early — leaving no goose for the feast. (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable)
  • Eating the goose that lays the golden eggs — meaning no more gold eggs! Not a very good trade off. (Why You Say It)
  • Sixteenth century villagers, under siege, “hung out a goose to show their attackers they were not starving.”  But when their attackers set fire to the village, the goose got cooked. (Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches)
  • A Swedish king sent his army to subdue an unruly province. Knowing the king loved roast goose, fighters hung up a large goose to taunt the royal fighters.  When the King’s army won, the monarch asked for the goose as a condition of surrender. He then cooked it and “ate it with a victor’s relish.” (Common Phrases and Where They Come From)

To drink a toast.” Toasting, or raising your glasses in honor of a person or idea, is a common part of holidays and celebrations.  The phrase originates from a piece of toasted bread that used to be put into the cup, according to Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Celebrants would dip the toasted bread into their wine at a call for a toast, and then eat it, according to Common Phrases and Where They Come From.

Pie in the sky.”  This expression is used to describe a promise or wish that likely won’t be fulfilled. It was coined by labor activist Joe Hill in 1911, as part of his parody song “Preacher and the Slave.” (From Loose Cannons, Red Herrings, and Other Lost Metaphors, by Robert Claiborne.) Hill was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the “Wobblies.” Angry at religious organizations  that  encouraged workers to accept unfair circumstances, Hill wrote a set of parody lyrics to the tune of the Salvation Army’s “In the Sweet By and By.” In the chorus of his version, “The Preacher and the Slave,”  preachers promise to hungry men that they will one day have “pie in the sky.”

Joe Hill

You will eat, bye and bye
In that glorious land above the sky
Work and Pray, live on hay
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

Hungry for more? Click on the book titles to see where you can find them in the library, and learn more about oddball idioms and expressions.

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Christmas Tree Trivia

Did you know that the commercial market for Christmas trees began over 150 years ago? In 1851, a farmer named Mark Carr cut down trees in New York’s Catskill Mountains, hauled them in sleds to New York City, and sold all of the trees. A small tree cost five or ten cents and a large tree cost a quarter!

During the Depression, nurseries were having a difficult time selling their evergreen trees to people for landscaping, so they sold them as Christmas trees. Customers liked the more evenly shaped nursery trees better than the wild forest trees, so Christmas tree farms started springing up around the country.

Now, the majority of real Christmas trees come from Christmas tree farms.  The industry has come a long way from Mark Carr cutting down a load of trees in the Catskill Mountains!

You can find this information and many more factoids on a wide variety of topics in the book Do Fish Drink Water? by Bill McLain

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

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Online Resources for JobSeekers 50+

The Sunnyvale Public Library has many jobseekers that are looking for resources to find employment.  A number of our jobseekers are 50 or older. Whether it’s full-time, part-time or are just looking for something new and interesting to do in your retirement years, below is a select list of organizations and online job sites that may be able to help you:

  • AARP: Offers a new job web page: ( where you can find a list of major companies that have job openings and have expressed an interest in recruiting older workers.
  • Experience Works ( A national, nonprofit organization that offers training, employment and community service opportunities for mature workers. This includes a variety of programs designed to help older individuals enter the workforce, secure more challenging positions, move into new career areas or supplement their incomes.
  • The Next Chapter ( Offers resources and various programs around the country to help individuals nearing retirement answer the question – what’s next?
  • Senior Job Bank ( Provides job listings for those over 50.
  • Retired Brains ( Offers full-time, part-time and temporary job listings for retirees.
  • YourEncore ( Recruits experienced scientists, engineers and product developers for projects with national companies.
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Book Lover’s Online Resources

Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” – Lemony Snicket

Have you ever been at a loss to find a really good book to read?   Have you ever wondered what the sequence of books in a series is?   If you don’t have a librarian handy to answer these questions there are some great online sites that can help.  Here are eight good ones that might fit your interests.

African-American Black Literature Club has been around since 1997.  It is a good source for author profiles, book recommendations, active discussion boards, writer resources, informative articles, videos, and book reviews.


Books ‘n’ Bytes is focused on mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy.  It has booklists, reviews, author lists,  guest columns, a calendar, and conventions.  They update frequently.

 Fantastic Fiction is a British site with over 25, ooo authors and information on more than 300,000 books.  Although publishing is becoming more international there are still delays on getting many British authors in the US as they are often edited to include Americanisms.  Stay ahead of the game and knowledgeable about the original titles of your favorites at


Readers Advice seems to specialize in genre fiction offering incredibly detailed choices such as Fantasy – Underground Worlds, Fiction – School Shootings, and Elfpunk/Urban Fantasy.  They also have a healthy list of read-alikes

Reader’s Circle is a resource for book groups, publishers, and authors.   It includes assistance in starting a book group, a calendar, author phone chats , as well as local groups to join.

South Asian Women’s Network , a site is for women from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in English, includes a nice section called the bookshelf.  There are copious reviews and links and is of interest to those not from South Asia.


Stop You’re Killing Me is my favorite site for getting lists of mystery author’s works, series, and searching.  It includes the new and the classic and is extremely easy to use.

Whichbook is a UK site with a very cool tool for matching your interests to books.  The user chooses several characteristics that they want in a book or pick settings, characters, etc.  and the program pulls up possible matches.  The system is actually to assist UK readers link to books they can then checkout at their local library or have sent to them.  For the user not living in the UK this options won’t work and you may also run into books not published in the US, but it is fun, and most searches result in some books you will be interested in reading.

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