Dear Straight Dope:
Where did the phrase "soup to nuts," which I believe means from start to finish, come from?
Rich, Hebron, CT
Songbird, Dogster, and Lara reply:
According to my Dictionary of Idioms:
From Soup to Nuts
Meaning: the whole thing from beginning to end
Origin: For centuries, any foods served at the beginning or end of a meal stood for the entire thing: the start and finish and everything in between. This expression was “from eggs to apples” and “from pottage to cheese.” In the United States in the middle of the 20th century, the expression developed into “from soup to nuts.” At many meals, soup is often the first course and a dessert with nuts is sometimes the last. The expression does not have to refer to only to meals, however. It could be the selection of goods for sale or classes offered.
SDSTAFF Dogster adds:
The Oxford English Dictionary gives these citations:
phrase: (from) soup to nuts (US colloq), from beginning to end, completely; everything.
1920: C Mathewson “Won in Ninth” 143: He knew the game from ‘soup to nuts.’
1938: H Asbury “Sucker’s Progress” 16: For many years a common expression was ‘from soda to hock’, meaning the whole thing, from soup to nuts.
1946: E O’Neill “Iceman Cometh” 79: I know all about that game from soup to nuts.
1964: F. O’Rourke “Mule for Marquesa” 42: ‘Everything here we asked for?’ ‘Soup to nuts, nothing but the best.’
Not exciting. But dig a little deeper, and we find this:
Hock: In the game of faro, the last card remaining in the box after all the others have been dealt.
Soda: (paraphrasing) in the game of faro, the first card out of the box.
So, from soda to hock would be from the first card to the last card, hence, from beginning to end.
1902: H.L. Wilson “Spenders” 49: Young Bines played the deal from soda to hock.
Maybe not the answer we were looking for, but interesting anyway.
SDSTAFF Lara concludes:
I don’t know if the Dictionary of Idioms explanation rings quite true for me. Desserts that contain nuts are *sometimes* served? Groan.
According to most of the British authors I read, the last course of a meal is port and nuts. But only for the men, I believe. I think the women had to go sequester themselves elsewhere and drink coffee or something until the men got tired of drinking port and joined them. Which of course begs the question, how did *that* get started? At any rate this is a British custom, and “from soup to nuts” is an American idiom. But still it seems clear that in some form or another nuts were considered the last course in a good meal, while soup was the first. And I think that covers this one from soup to nuts.
Songbird, Dogster, and Lara
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