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Last updated at 12:57 GMT, Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Cut the mustard

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It's a sad day for Feifei as she just lost a cooking contest, and Finn tries to cheer her up by saying that sometimes we've got to accept that we just can't cut the mustard. Did Feifei miss out an ingredient?

fork and knife, BBC image

Feifei is sad because she just lost a cooking contest.

The script for this programme

Finn: Hi, I'm Finn. And this is The English We Speak. And this is Feifei. A very sad-looking Feifei, by the way.

Feifei: Sorry, Finn. But I feel a bit of a failure today. I took part in a cooking contest where my grandmother and my mother were champions and I lost!

Finn: I sympathise with you more than you know. My grandfather and my father were the best fishermen ever, and when I go fishing all I catch is a cold.

Feifei: I just can't understand why I didn't win this weekend. My pie was tasty, my cake looked appetising...

Finn: (Trying to make her feel better) Sometimes Feifei we've got to accept that we just can't cut the mustard.

Feifei: (Angry) What!? Are you saying that I can't cut the mustard?! I can cut the mustard, and the cheese, I can beat the eggs, sieve the flour...

Finn: Calm down dear, this has nothing to do with your cooking skills. In English, when you say someone or something 'can't cut the mustard' you mean that it's not good enough.

Feifei: (Calming down a bit) So you're not doubting my cooking abilities.

Finn: I wouldn't dare. So, we can say 'can't cut the mustard', or 'don't' or 'doesn't cut the mustard'. Listen out for some examples of how to use this expression.

  • I know the borough of Milton Keynes well. It's a charming place... but it doesn't cut the mustard where tourism is concerned.
  • I won't study architecture. I am bad at drawing. I just can't cut the mustard.

Feifei: Now I get it. It means you can't meet the expectations. This is a very odd expression.

Finn: There is some controversy about its origins. Some say it is because 'mustard' used to be slang for something that was the real thing, or the genuine article. Others believe it has to do with the fact that mustard seeds are hard to crack.

Feifei: It sounds like an old expression.

Finn: It is and it seems to be very popular especially in America. Here in Britain you might hear a shorter version like 'he can't cut it'.

Feifei: Oh, I've learnt a lot today. And now, to prove to you that I can cut it - the mustard, the cheese and the pie, I am inviting you to have lunch in my house this weekend.

Finn: And what is on the menu?

Feifei: (Proud and confident) You mentioned fishing so I'll offer you my very own special fish dish: tuna and chocolate pie!

Finn: Tuna and chocolate pie?! (Inventing an excuse, a bit desperate) Sorry, I think I won't be able to make it this weekend. I've got to go... fishing. Bye.

Feifei: Another time, then. Bye.

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