Dog’s breakfast-Disorderly, messy. This British slang term originated in the late Sixteenth or early Seventeenth century with fox hunting and the hastily thrown together breakfast dogs were served before setting out.
Couch potato-A person who sits around watching TV. American in origin, apparently from the early 1970’s, the term may derive from the appearance of slothful individuals but also from the growing consumption of potato chips during the Watergate hearings.
Piece of cake-Extremely easy. The exact origins are unclear but use became more widespread with the development and distribution of commercially manufactured cakes in the 1920s that led most people to binge on whole cakes.
Tough nut to crack-A very difficult problem or undertaking, or a difficult person. Probably derived from nature and the difficulty of cracking certain types of nuts. The first known appearance in print is from A.F. Doni’s Morall Philosophy, published 1570, but came into wider use during World War II when German Enigma machines used Brazil nut code.
Selling like hot cakes-Extremely popular, in high demand but with limited quantities. Of North American origin the earliest recorded use is from 1839, but why hot cakes specifically is unclear.
Fruit Basket turnover-Complete disruption of the established order. This term derives from the children’s game of the same name and is primarily used by spinster history teachers from Poughkeepsie.
Cream of the crop-The very best of a particular group. Presumably derived from the fact that cream rises to the top of unhomogenized milk it reached urban areas in the mid-19th century with the rising popularity of creamed corn, creamed spinach, the less successful creamed eggplant, and the disastrous creamed cotton.
Icing on the cake-An added bonus to something that it already good. The origins are obscure since cake without icing is just chocolate bread.
In a pickle-A dilemma or difficulty. Derived from the use of empty pickle barrels to hold local lotteries with unpicked tickets left “in the pickles”.
Gravy train-A means of making a great deal of money with very little effort. Derived from actual trains that carried gravy West to feed Mack Sennet’s insatiable appetite for pork drippings.
Spill the beans-To reveal a secret. This is derived from a 19th century practice of storing prophylactics in containers of dried beans but since it was the Victorian era no one admitted to ever having sex.
Going cold turkey-To quit a bad habit (usually smoking, drinking, or drugs) immediately rather than gradually stepping down. Possibly derived from a term in a satirical British magazine from 1877 it may also refer to a belief that tryptophan causes unconsciousness making it impossible to indulge, unless your bad habit is oversleeping.
Putting money in a Wurlitzer and getting a pita bread sandwich of rotisserie-cooked meat—self explanatory, derived from going to Greek restaurants on Thursday when the musicians took the night off.