Saturday, September 26, 2009

Gravy Train

Al from Bay City asked about the phrase gravy train. It usually shows up as “to board the gravy train” or “to ride the gravy train.” It now refers to money easily acquired, to an unearned or unexpected bonus. Obviously, it’s an analogy to the foodstuff, a savory addition.

From 1390 to 1508, gravy described a dressing for meat, fish, or vegetables that consisted of broth, milk of almonds, spices, and wine or ale.

From 1598 on, it acquired the sense with which we are familiar: take the fat and juices from the bottom of the baking pan, add condiments and perhaps broth, and thicken with a flour or cornstarch.

Somewhere around World War I, gravy train started appearing as a metaphor for easy financial success. That puts it roughly in the same kitchen as icing on the cake.

SIDEBAR: Good Gravy

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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