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.
Can't Cut the Mustard (Origin)
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.

Previous and Next Sayings

Test Your Knowledge of English Proverbs and Idioms

Ready for the Test?

More Proverbs, Sayings, and Idioms

Help Us Improve Grammar Monster

  • Do you disagree with something on this page?
  • Did you spot a typo?

Find Us Quicker!

  • When using a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing), you will find Grammar Monster quicker if you add #gm to your search term.
Next lesson >