He's mustard

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panjandrum

Lapsed Moderator
English-Ireland (top end)
We've had a friendly family conversation recently about this expression.

The statement, "That wee boy's mustard," was made in relation to a small boy who is delightful in many ways but is always on the move. He needs a lot of attention to ensure that he doesn't get to places he shouldn't and do things he shouldn't.

Some of us understood immediately what was meant.
Others were confused into thinking that it was some kind of compliment, suggesting that the small boy in question is particularly accomplished in some respect - he's hot stuff.

It's beginning to look as if the first meaning is very localised, so I thought I should ask here to see if our definition of "mustard" is known elsewhere.

mustard (adjective)
Applied to people or situations - very dynamic, challenging to keep control of.
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    It would be the second definition for me, I'm afraid: the "very accomplished/hot stuff" one.

    I don't think I've come across "mustard" meaning "always on the move". But then I don't have very much to do with lively small boys....:D.
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    "Others were confused into thinking that it was some kind of compliment."

    Panj, I have been confused for a very long tme..... :)

    GF..
     

    Bevj

    Allegra Moderata (Sp/Eng, Cat)
    English (U.K.)
    I know the phrase though I haven't heard it for years!
    I would understand it in your second sense, as a compliment.
    'Wow, he's mustard!' would indicate that somebody was outstanding in some way, probably as you say, accomplished or talented.
    However, I do agree with the definition 'dynamic' and I suppose that in relation to a small child, this could by extension take the meaning of 'a handful' .
    Still, I wouldn't regard it as a negative trait :)
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The “mustard” you’re describing sounds to me like hyperactive—which is not at all the understanding I would have. The definitions I’m familiar with are quick-witted, sharp, on the ball, fast, ace. Any combination(s) of these could apply at the same time, and the usual context would be sport (but one of my peers at school was “mustard at maths”, I remember).
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I would assume it was a compliment too, but I have never heard it used. It makes me think of the expression "keen as mustard", or as adding spice to to the flavour of life, a dynamic element, in a positive way. Maybe it is a euphemism for a more negative phrase like 'a handful'.

    "That child is quite a handful".
    :)
    Hermione
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    ...Maybe it is a euphemism for a more negative phrase like 'a handful'.

    "That child is quite a handful".
    :)
    Hermione
    It's not by any means a euphemism, any more than "quite a handful", but that is precisely the meaning - thank you :)
    Such kids are not pathologically hyperactive, but they are indeed "quite a handful".

    It's beginning to look as if "he's mustard" with this sense is extremely localised.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Thank you for your comments.
    They confirm what I had begun to believe - this is a local expression.
    Searching a little deeper this morning I found:
    Mustard: Troublesome, difficult.
    'That wee lad's absolutely mustard, so he is.'
    'The town's mustard this close to Christmas.'
    Source
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Another source, uk.answers.yahoo.com/, about this use of mustard.

    GF..

    Some flimsy evidence that it is, at least, a UK-EN thing....
    There are several "enthusiastic, keen" posts there, but then this little gem:
    2) mustard means they have a reputation of non-conformity / challenging the accepted norm / rebellious / non-accepting / non complying of the social norm .
    ...northerner born n bred .

    That's consistent with my example, though obviously more related to adults than kids.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The only time I've heard as anybody being "mustard" is in the parlor game "Clue" ("Cluedo") and its derivatives. (Colonel Mustard).

    There doesn't seem to be a connection with "wild" there however.

    Added comment: There! I did it in the forum with my Dell.
     
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