Posted by Smokey Stover on November 26, 2005
: : : : : : I am looking for a derivation of "in the soup" meaning in difficulty or trouble, or "out of the soup" meaning out of trouble. I know the literal concept as that is pretty clear but do not know really where this phrase originated from. Any ideas?
: : : : : Just a guess.
: : : : : Maybe a nautical origin with a sailor falling overboard into the soup?
: : : : Or a literal metaphor, as in "in a stew" or in a "pickle"? My slang dictionary doesn't have an opinion, but does say that it is late 19th century US slang.
: : : The origin is said by some to go back to the potato famine in 1840s Ireland. Such was the famine that soup kitchens in Dublin were vital; however, in order to be given soup, Irish families had to give up Catholicism and also Anglicise their names - O'Donohue became Donohue for instance. The Irish hated this, but were so hungry that many families were forced to be in the soup. Since the phrase is first recorded only in the late 19C in the US, this is unlikely. The origin seems obscure.
: : I don't like to be picky (well, actually I do), but in the U.S. "in a stew" and "in a pickle" convey different things. In a stew means you're sweating it out, you're upset and worried. In a pickle means you got yourself in a jam. Of course, if you're in a pickle you might also be in a stew because of the jam you're in. I'll leave it at that, you know the rest! SS
: I wasn't suggesting that "in a pickle" or "in a stew" were equivalent; simply that food-related metaphors of this kind were commonplace. (VSD)
Quite right. You didn't make that suggestion. But I had fun with the penultimate sentence of my post. Actually, I always had the impression that soup, and not some other food-related metaphor, was what the phrase intended. But why soup I cannot guess. SS