Can't Cut the Mustard (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Can't Cut the Mustard"?

The term "can't cut the mustard" means unable to meet the standard.

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Can't Cut the Mustard (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • He thought he could handle the intense competition, but he quickly realized he couldn't cut the mustard.
  • Despite his best efforts, he couldn't cut the mustard and didn't meet the expectations of the team.
  • She applied for the job, but during the interview, it became apparent that she couldn't cut the mustard and lacked the required skills.
  • He was given a chance to prove himself, but in the end, he couldn't cut the mustard and was let go.
  • When it came to handling pressure situations, he couldn't cut the mustard and often crumbled under the stress.
The word "cut" in the idiom "can't cut the mustard" means to display or to exhibit, as in "he cuts a fine figure" or "he is cutting around like he owns the place." The word "mustard" is a metaphor for sharp-mindedness and vibrancy. Therefore, if someone "can't cut the mustard," it means they cannot exhibit the traits of a high-standard person.

Competing Theory

The term is literal. It means that a person cannot cut the mustard plants, which grow in dense clumps and are notoriously tough and stringy. In the mustard industry, if someone cannot cut the plants, they are useless. Nowadays, the term means not up to standard in any context.

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