What Does Cut the Mustard Mean?

Cutting the Mustard Meaning

Definition: To be sufficient for something; to be of high enough quality.

People often use this idiom in its negative form, such as he doesn’t cut the mustard.

Origin of Cut the Mustard

The origin of this idiom is contested, and there are many different theories. However, we do know that it first started appearing in written form around the year 1900.

Before this expression existed, mustard was a synonym for the best stuff. Cut it is another modern expression that means to be sufficient for something,

  • He did not make the cut.
  • He can’t cut it.

what does it mean to cut the mustard This phrase is also typically used in its negative form, as seen in the above example.

The evidence from these two other expressions seems to point to the theory that this idiom developed from mustard’s earlier slang usage of being something of the very best quality.

Examples of Cut the Mustard

The first dialogue shows a sister using the idiom in a conversation with her brother.

Luke: Okay, I finally finished vacuuming the house.

Ella: And I finished washing all the windows.

Luke: Let’s check each other’s work to make sure it will cut the mustard.

Ella: That’s a good idea. The cleaning has to be perfect; otherwise, Mom will not be happy.

cuts the mustardThe second example shows two people using the expression in a conversation about a project on which they’ve been working.

Ray: I just don’t think this is going to work. Maybe we should just start all over.

Jackie: We can’t start over! We’ve already spent a lot of time and effort on this. We’re almost finished. Let’s just finish it.

Ray: I’m sorry. It just doesn’t cut the mustard. If we’re not going to do it right, I’d rather not do it at all.

Jackie: Fine. We’ll start all over and make it perfect.

More Examples

The below example uses the expression to say that a certain food item did not pass inspection with high enough ratings.

  • Internal memos showed that team officials felt that Sabbath hot-dog sales did not cut the mustard under Jewish law and feared offending observant Jews. –New York Post

In the next example, the writer uses the idiom in the context of a play, which the article writer wants to say isn’t good enough for many audiences.

  • It likely won’t cut the mustard for audiences expecting the National to offer shows that feel like they’re directly coming from or going to Broadway, rather than “not bad” productions with a lot of miles on the tires alighting from the outer reaches of the touring circuit. –Washington Post


The phrase cut the mustard means to be good enough, but it is usually used with negative words such as doesn’t, won’t, isn’t going to, etc., to say that something isn’t good enough.