Etymology Usage

Tucking into something tasty

Q: On foodie blogs and in restaurant reviews, one sometimes sees “tuck into” used to mean to dine on a particular dish. Example: “I tucked into a grilled chicken Caesar salad.” Where does the term come from?

A: What a seasonal question! We’re still recovering from Thanksgiving, and bracing ourselves for the rest of our holiday meals. We hesitate to step on the bathroom scale.

The slang use of “tuck” to refer to gourmandizing goes back to the 18th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

This meaning is an extension of the use of “tuck” in the sense of putting something into a snug or hidden place (“The cottage was tucked into the woods”) or covering up something (“We tucked her into bed”).

Here, in chronological order, are some of the OED citations for “tuck” and “tucking” in reference to eating or drinking.

“We will dine together; tuck up a bottle or two of claret” (from the novel Barham Downs, 1784, by Robert Bage).

“Tom Sponge now began cramming unmercifully, exclaiming every three mouthfuls, ‘Rare tucking in, Sir William’ ” (from the anonymous novel Splendid Follies, 1810).  

“Now that I’ve cured you, you’ll be tucking all that into your own little breadbasket” (from Frederick Marryat’s novel Peter Simple, 1833).

“If you’ll just let little Wackford tuck into something fat” (from Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby, 1838).

“The strawberries … Which our Grandmother’s Uncle tuck’d in like a pig” (from The Ingoldsby Legends, written sometime before 1845 by Richard H. Barham).

“There is Rasherwell ‘tucking’ away in the coffee-room” (from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Roundabout Papers, 1860).

“Let’s go over and see if we can’t tuck away some of that grub” (from Lessons in Life, lectures of Josiah G. Holland, 1861).

“They gave themselves unreservedly to ‘tucking
in’ ” (from The Golden Butterfly, an 1876 novel by Sir Walter Besant and James Rice).

“Always in at dinner-time and to be found at odd hours tucking in” (from Knight-Errant, an 1887 novel by “Edna Lyall,” the pseudonym of Ada Ellen Bayly). 

Well, it’s mealtime and this is making us hungry!

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