< Expressions for a Full Meal
By Anna Matteo
04 March 2023

And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

For today's program, we invite you to share a meal with us – well, expressions about a meal, that is.

Like most languages, English is filled with food expressions. Today we will start with two appetizers, continue with the main dish, and finish with dessert.

FILE - Diego Guerrero, from left, Carlos Sanchez, Mila, Ines Andres, Carlota Andres, Jose Andres and Pepa Mu<I>&#</I>241;oz enjoy a meal in a scene from the Discovery + television series Jose Andres and Family in Spain. (Xaume Olleros/Discovery via AP)
FILE - Diego Guerrero, from left, Carlos Sanchez, Mila, Ines Andres, Carlota Andres, Jose Andres and Pepa Mu&#241;oz enjoy a meal in a scene from the Discovery + television series "Jose Andres and Family in Spain." (Xaume Olleros/Discovery via AP)

In other words, we will take you from soup to nuts – or from the beginning to the end. With many meals, soup comes first and nuts come last. So, if you do something from soup to nuts you do everything from the beginning to the end.


An appetizer is the first part of a meal. Our first appetizer today is alphabet soup.

When you have a collection of letters of the alphabet that stand for several words, we can call it an alphabet soup. These can be the letters that show a job, such as COO or Chief Operating Officer. They could be letters that show someone's education, like an MBA for a Master of Business Administration and a Ph.D. for a Doctor of Philosophy.

Let's say someone hands you their business card. After their name are the letters MBA, Ph.D., and COO. You can say, "Wow, that is quite the alphabet soup after your name. But what is it you do exactly?"

Now, let's move on to the next appetizer – salad.

A salad usually has some kind of vegetables mixed with cheese, egg, meat, nuts, or, sometimes, fruit. Well, when we have a mixture of words or phrases that are difficult to understand, we can call it a word salad.

Word experts say that in the past, word salad described difficult-to-understand spoken language from people with illnesses. However, in recent years, the expression word salad has come to simply mean difficult-to-understand language.

Main dish

Now, let's move on to the main dish – in this case, a sandwich. You can make a sandwich from anything – meat, cheese, vegetables, tofu, fish, shrimp, or chicken. Just put them between two pieces of bread and you have a sandwich.

You can even make a sandwich from ... criticism!

A criticism sandwich is a way to soften the delivery of bad news. You put the criticism between two nice things – such as praise or approval.

Here is an example:

So, your performance in last week's sales meeting was great! Thanks for your help. But I'll need you to clean up the report. I saw a few things wrong with the numbers. But yeah, the client really loved your presentation!

That could also be called a feedback sandwich. But it is made the same way!


If you love sweets, you will love dessert.

Now, I could use easy as pie or a piece of cake as examples. Both describe something very easy to do or finish. But I am going to use my favorite dessert – cookies!

Some cookies are formed by hand and their shapes can be very different from one another. However, some people use a device called a cookie cutter when making cookies. With a cookie cutter, every cookie is the same shape with little difference.

And that gives us the expression cookie-cutter. It describes something similar to many other things. There is nothing special, extraordinary, or different about things that are cookie-cutter.

For example, houses in my neighborhood were made by the same builders. They are all the same size and shape. In other words, the houses in my neighborhood are cookie-cutter houses.

Thanks for joining me for this lunchtime version of Words and Their Stories.

Until next time ... I'm Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

appetizer – n. a food or drink usually served before a meal to make one hungrier

dish – n. food prepared in a particular way

dessert – n. a usually sweet course or dish (as of pastry or ice cream) usually served at the end of a meal

business card – n. a small card bearing information (such as name and address) about a business or business representative

salad – n. raw greens (such as lettuce) often combined with other vegetables and toppings and served especially with dressing

delivery – n. the act of handing over

lunchtime – n. the time at which lunch is usually eaten

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