Unless one is trying to unravel the mysteries of the English language to a foreign speaker, common phrases often pop out of our mouths that we really can’t explain when push comes to shove, so Robert Sietsema of The Village Voice did a little digging in the language pantry and found out what it is we’re actually talking about.
1. Piping Hot — This expression was used as early as late medieval times, referring to the steam that shot out of a spouted tea kettle, a device in use at least since ancient Mesopotamia. In other words, “piping hot” means “boiling hot.” Chaucer used the expression in 1386, as quoted by wiki.answers: “Wafres pipyng hoot out of the gleede” (“Waffles piping hot out of the fire”). On the other hand, when Shakespeare used the word “piping” two centuries later as an adjective, he was referring to bagpiping.
2. Done to a Turn — It sounds like this refers to our contemporary practice of turning certain grilled foods (e.g., pancakes and hamburgers) with a spatula. But the phrase is much older, originating in the Middle Ages, when meats were cooked, not in ovens or on barbecues, but on spits turning over an open fire. Hence, “done to a turn,” meaning within one turn of being perfectly cooked.
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