I am looking for expressions close in meaning to the idiomatic "how the sausage gets made". Something that conveys the idea of looking at the hidden, gory details of some process.

(Note: I know that particular expression works well. I am specifically looking for alternative ones.)

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    Philippe, where in the world is "how the sausage gets made" used? Is it something from another language that you translated to English? – Tristan Jul 29 '13 at 14:13
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    @Mari-LouA I think the more one knows about how sausages are made, the less tasty it sounds! – TrevorD Jul 29 '13 at 14:17
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    Not the Italian ones. My uncle used to make home-made ones. No crushed bones, gristle or pigs' eyes etc. Real pork meat and spices. Yum! "salsicce artigianale" – Mari-Lou A Jul 29 '13 at 14:20
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    'Bags of mystery', as my grandmother would say. Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. Otto von Bismarck brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/o/ottovonbis161318.html – Qube Jul 29 '13 at 14:23
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    @Tristan I have often, in the US Midwest and East, heard reference to how the sausage gets made or what goes into the sausage - an allusion to the presumption that sausage is composed of inferior cuts, offal, and various "fillers" into which you don't want to inqure too closely if you are going to eat the sausage. – StoneyB Jul 29 '13 at 16:59
up vote 3 down vote accepted

That phrase is a very well-known American idiom. But Bismark is not the originator. Researcher Ralph Keyes found 1869 texts that show John Godfrey Saxe as author.

Original question: "under the hood" "warts and all" "the good, bad, and the ugly [from the movie]" "all the gory details"

Note: This is not an attempt to answer the poster's original question. Rather, it's a brief look at the background of the phrase "how sausage is made." I include it here because it may interest readers who are unfamiliar with metaphorical use of the phrase and because the phrase's origin hasn't come up elsewhere on EL&U.

The origin of the "how sausage gets made" idiom may be the proverb/quotation, "Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made." The Quote Investigator has an interesting discussion of the origin of this phrase, which dates back at least as far as 1869, under the heading Laws are Like Sausages. Better Not to See Them Being Made. Evidently the phrase is frequently (though probably erroneously) attributed to Otto von Bismarck.

Another once-familiar expression that trades on the dubiousness of the ingredients that may go into sausage appears in volume 23 of the Pacific Monthly (1910):

Reminded me of our maxim of the pig: "Use everything and make sausage of the rest."

I was surprised to find, however, that Google Books references in a general metaphorical sense to "how sausage is made" are exceedingly infrequent (in fact, virtually nonexistent) before about 1989, when this example, reported in Mary Price, "Setting the legal information agenda for the year 2000," Law Library Journal 81(2), was published:

Ms. Vincent-Daviss: Well, how do you feel about librarians making all kinds of decisions that affect the format that you're going to use without asking?

Mr. Terry Martin: He's a consumer of hot dogs. What does he care how the sausage is made?

Ms. Vincent-Daviss: It's not how the sausage is made. It's what kind of sausage it is.

More-recent instances seem to assume a familiarity with the historically unpleasant associations of sausage making, as in this extract from Silvio Waisbord, Watchdog Journalism in South America (2000):

It shows us how political sausage is made but reveals little (if anything) about how news sausage is made. And the making of news sausages is closely linked to the "politics by other means" that are increasingly dominant in South American democracies.

(I'm fairly sure that the "closely linked" language in this last quotation is not an intentional pun.)

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    Interesting, thanks! – Philippe Jul 31 '13 at 21:31

Though I agree that maybe we don't necessarily want to know how all the different bits and bobs get put into the sausage skin, here are a couple of "punny" eye-catching alternative headlines:

  • The "Best and Wurst" of Sausage-making
  • A "Link" to the Making of Links

blow-by-blow precisely detailed; describing every minute detail and step

  • "a blow-by-blow report on the wedding ceremony."
  • "A detailed blow-by-blow account is also more likely to be accurate than one which carries only a vague report."

in graphic detail The book described her sufferings in graphic detail.

[*The Free Dictionary]: 7. depicted in a realistic or vivid manner

The term nitty-gritty (“The essence or core of something; the details”) perhaps feels a bit like “how the sausage gets made”. Also, depending on what slant you want, consider related terms
exposé, “publication of some disreputable facts”
exposition, “The action of putting something out to public view; for example in a display or show”, “An essay or speech in which any topic is discussed in detail”, etc.
dissection, “A minute and detailed examination or analysis”
explication, “The act of opening, unfolding, or explaining; explanation; exposition; interpretation”
essentials, in its sense of all-the-important-details

"Behind the scenes" will work as an alternative but it is not as evocative / powerful as the original. However, "a peek behind the scenes" is the closest in meaning to what you are looking for.

One idiom that comes to mind is:

Taking a peek behind the curtain.

which is related to the following imperatives:

Pay no mind to the man behind the curtain.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Another idiom, almost the same as the first is:

Taking a look under the hood.

This idiom is most often associated with opening an automobile hood (bonnet) to look at the engine, but I suppose it could also be used to describe removing the covering of a hooded person--removing the mask.

Others in the same vein:

A look behind the facade.

Tear down the facade.

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