Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In a recent speech about the national debt, Obama said it's time to "Eat our peas".

What does it mean - where does it come from?

share|improve this question
    
I wonder if this is akin to "eating a frog", to do the hardest thing because It can't get any worse after that! Or maybe it has origin in the old "eat your greens you'll never grow up to be a big strong boy!" –  Drav Sloan Jul 12 '11 at 20:25
    
I actually find frog to be delicious. –  OghmaOsiris Jul 12 '11 at 20:30
    
It is pretty bizarre that the US pres. picked something as delicious as fresh beautiful peas to make that metaphor. Presumably if a euro leader said something like this it would be "sometimes, you just have to force down a 'big mac'..." --! –  Joe Blow Jul 12 '11 at 20:45
1  
@Joe Blow - Fresh beautiful peas are quite nice. Canned peas are nasty and common and available year round, and are more likely what is being referred to here. –  thursdaysgeek Jul 12 '11 at 22:14
1  
@Joe Blow - My parents used to forbid me to leave the dinner table until my (canned) peas were all gone. After the first few, I couldn't even get the dog to eat them. I had to resort to hiding them on the platform that the extra table leaves go on. Suffice it to say I know exactly what Obama meant. –  T.E.D. Sep 16 '11 at 13:01
show 1 more comment

3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The phrase "eat our peas" is not, as far as I know, a historical metaphor. However, according to the context given by CBS, President Obama was telling the nation that they had to buckle down and do what might hurt but would be good for them.

To add further context and explanation, the sentence also referred to "pulling off the Band-Aid". When you need to take off a Band-Aid, you have to rip it off in order to get it over with. The president was saying the same thing twice.

Edit: There is more discussion of this metaphor here, as it is not a usually accepted metaphor. The author writes,

I take it that the pea-eating metaphor is intended to indicate that all sides must take an unpleasant political hit to settle the debt issue. They won't like it, but it'll be good for them.

share|improve this answer
    
Using specifically peas, which many people don't like (similar to broccoli) might also be a more creative way of saying "eat your vegetables," a common admonition. –  aedia λ Jul 12 '11 at 20:28
    
Very good point @aedia. I hope the quote I just added helps clarify a bit. –  simchona Jul 12 '11 at 20:31
2  
I actually learned this as "eating your spinach" -- same idea, different unappealing vegetable. –  Monica Cellio Jul 12 '11 at 20:36
1  
It might be of interest that, at least by the late 90s, it was a popular enough phrase to be have a popular (at the time) Australian comedy compilation released with the name Eat Your Peas. –  Brendon Jul 12 '11 at 23:08
add comment

The term is synonymous with "take your medicine" or in more general but similar terms "eat your greens". We may not like it, and we may not see how it could possibly help us, but there is a benefit in the long term.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I am not sure where the saying comes from in terms of its origin, but in my opinion it comes from the fact that children don't like to eat peas but are made to because it is good for them. They are green, and gross, and have a yucky texture to them...my mom still hates them! So I would use it to refer to something that I would have to do in a begrudging manner, knowing that it was good for me but man did I hate having to do it!!

share|improve this answer
2  
+1 for being the only one to actually mention children. –  deceze Jul 13 '11 at 2:48
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.