Jeff Burbrink

Jeff Burbrink

Have you ever thought about the numerous ways American English has adopted expressions that contain references to agriculture? In just a few minutes, I jotted down more than 50 expressions that have roots in agricultural or natural resources-related fields. Here are few of my favorites.

• Don’t put all your eggs in one basket — refers to keeping your options open or not expending all your resources on one course of action.

• Don’t cry over spilled milk — you cannot change something that has already happened.

• Bread and butter — refers to the way someone makes a living.

• Make hay while the sun shines — act while the time is right.

• Dime a dozen — originally referred to an overabundance of eggs at a market, which caused the prices to be cheap.

• Late bloomers — refers to a person whose talents became apparent later in life.

• Apple of someone’s eye — the special sweetheart in your life.

• Apple polisher — originally referred to students trying to gain favor with their teacher by presenting them with an apple.

• The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree — Implies the children of a person are very similar to the parent.

• Apples and oranges — references two things that are fundamentally different and should not be compared.

• Bet the farm — Risking all your resources on the hope of solving a problem.

• Farm it out — to put a job into the hands of another.

• Seed money — money used to get a project started.

• Goes to seed — something that has become less attractive or inefficient.

• Reap what you sow — you must eventually face consequences for your actions.

• Sow your wild oats — a time of irresponsible behavior while young.

• Die on the vine — an idea or project that fails to continue on.

• Nip it in the bud — stopping an idea or project before it develops.

• I am stumped — Originally referred to pioneer wagons that were stuck on stumps along the westbound trail. It now means to not know or understand.

• Stumping — town squares often had old tree stumps, which political candidates would stand on while giving their “stump” speech in order to be seen above the crowd.

• Plant a seed of doubt — to cause someone to worry or be concerned.

• Cream of the crop — the best of the best, because cream is the best part of milk.

• The cream rises to the top — implies the best of something will become obvious.

• Meat and potatoes — an expression describing something as basic or simple.

And my favorite …

Don’t let them get your goat — You might think this means to steal a goat, however, this phrase refers to making someone very angry. No one is really sure how this expression evolved.

Jeff Burbrink is a Purdue Extension educator in Elkhart County. He can be reached at 574-533-0554 or at

React to this story:


Recommended for you