Christmas Words (3): Mince

After merry and goodwill, let’s turn now towards more practical matters, and towards affairs of the stomach.

Photo by Georgie Devlin on

These are mince pies, a Christmas staple in Britain and Ireland. They’re made from pastry and a goopy brown ingredient called mincemeat or just mince.

Mincemeat? So that’s minced lamb, or pork, or…?

Well, it’s complicated.

The mincemeat in modern mince pies is made from raisins, apples, nuts and spices. There’s usually no meat.

But mincemeat can also refer to minced meat (of any kind). Just not in a pie in December.

So, to be clear, this fruity concoction is called mincemeat or mince:

From Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Jmb, licensed CC BY 2.5)

And this lasagne filling is also called mincemeat or mince:

Photo by Mateusz Feliksik on

What if I make a pie with the second type of mincemeat?

The British way to solve this potential confusion is to specify that it’s a savoury mince pie, or to call it after the type of meat you’ve used, for instance a minced beef pie.

According to Wikipedia, the Australian and New Zealand nomenclature is the other way around: a mince pie with only fruit is called a fruit mince pie, presumably leaving a plain mince pie as the meaty type.

Can I mince anything apart from foods?

Yes, you can mince (your) words. If you do, you say things in a gentle and indirect way.

Often, this is used in the negative sense:

  • When I got my first tattoo, Dad did not mince his words. Ugly, hideous and stupid, I think he said, among other less polite things… So it was a surprise when he turned up last Christmas with a spider’s web tattooed all over the top of his head.
  • I’m never one to mince words. I say just what I think and ignore the haters. People try to hurt me and criticise me all the time. Someone last week even called me “rude and outspoken”. Can you believe that?

You can also use it sarcastically, if you think someone’s being harsh:

  • A: Well, I think our new logo looks bizarre. I’m sorry. It’s totally ridiculous.
  • B: Don’t mince your words!

Anything else? Can I mince a person, for example?

Almost. You can make mincemeat of an opponent in an argument, fight or game. It means something like win big, or smash the opposition.

  • What do you mean, we just scraped a win? We made mincemeat of you! Two nil!
  • She is regarded as an up-and-coming minister, who regularly makes mincemeat of the opposition in parliamentary debates. However, her name recognition among the public is yet to catch up with her reputation among party colleagues.
  • My uncle made mincemeat of the Civil Service exam. 97 percent, I think he got. So they stuck him answering the phones at the Department of Miscellaneous Regulation.

With the World Cup so close to Christmas, there are plenty of opportunities to combine idioms into a seasonal pun. With apologies and condolences to any German fans reading this, here’s an example:

  • While Japan made mincemeat of the Spanish defence, the German footballing establishment were left to eat humble pie as their team exited the tournament.

Someone once accused me of mincing around like I’m a TV star. What did they mean?

Oh dear, that wasn’t very nice of them! This is another meaning of the verb mince. I don’t agree with of the definitions in the dictionary, so I’ll give you my own:

  • mince (v): to move or walk in a low-energy, high-drama style.

For example:

  • Samantha’s mother minced over to us, watched intently by the others at her table. “I need your daughter to give the prize to Samantha. She deserved to win. She has worked hard for this performance”. “Are you serious!”, we exclaimed in unison.

Note that mincing can also refer to a low-energy or ‘unmasculine’ way of speaking or acting. Using it in this way carries sexist and homophobic connotations, so it’s definitely best avoided.

To illustrate what I mean, here’s a couple of real-life examples, both from a few years ago, and both fairly dripping with venom towards the politicians they describe:

  • And, don’t get me started on his nervous giggle, his wild-eyed discomfiture, his flailing arms, or his mincing steps (he doesn’t exactly stride onto the stage like a colossus, you know). (From a comment on caffertyfile, 2012).
  • Rather than be a manly man and tell the women to their face that they had upset the Speaker, Bolger acted like a mincing, spineless ninny… (From Jezebel magazine, 2012).

Okay, that got heavy. Can we get back to pies?

Sure! But I’m sure you can help me out here.

Know any good idioms involving the word pie?

Good. Then why not write them in the comments!

Meanwhile, I’m off to eat an apple pie. I hate mince.

(Top Photo by Jessica Lewis Creative, from Pexels).

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