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The phrase 'soup up' is slang that basically means 'to increase the power of' something. Why do we use 'soup' here? It seems similar to the phrases 'beef up' and 'pep up', which literally come from the foods beef and pepper, so is it as simple as the fact that it's a variation on those phrases that uses 'soup' as the food? But why soup? Is soup considered particularly 'hearty'?

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I know it as "suped-up", from the word "super". Though you find reference to it online, "souped-up" is much more common - and I don't know why! – Kristina Lopez Apr 17 '13 at 17:42
up vote 3 down vote accepted

The OED postulates that to soup up may have been influenced by the super- prefix, such as is seen in words like supercharged:

[compare quot. 1909 at soup n. 2c; perhaps influenced by super- prefix]

Orig. and chiefly with up.

To modify (an engine, aircraft, motor vehicle, etc.) to increase its power and efficiency.
Also transf. and fig. colloq. (orig. U.S.).

Notable citations both early and late include:

  • 1933     C. K. Stewart Speech Amer. Airman 92
    Soup Up, to supercharge.
  • 1939     Sun (Baltimore) 3 Aug. 1/6
    We have done this without ‘souping up’ our engines, without putting alcohol in our gasoline,..or flying with motors which last only five hours.

  • 1976     K. Benton Single Monstrous Act v. 152
    He had lovingly souped up the Escort’s engine, and now gave it full throttle.
  • 1979     J. Gardner Nostradamus Traitor xxxix. 188
    A German car: Opel Kadett, souped, and probably reinforced.
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