Ashes in the mouth means? Comes from?
January 20, 2007 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Would someone tell me, please, the origin and meaning of the phrase "ashes in your mouth"? I've googled like mad and only come up with song lyrics.
posted by onegreeneye to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
alt.usage.english is always a good place to seach for answers for this sort of thing.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 11:02 PM on January 20, 2007

I'm not sure of the original source, but it is from a famous John F. Kennedy speech where he said something like "The Fruits of victory, will be like ashes in our mouths."

Meaning, to win a nuclear war would be a cost so high as to cancel out the benefits.
posted by rougy at 11:12 PM on January 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

We will not prematurely or unnecessarily
Risk the course of worldwide nuclear war
In which even the fruits of victory
Would be ashes in our mouths
posted by rougy at 11:13 PM on January 20, 2007

Is it perhaps from the Bible?

Isaiah 44:19-21 (King James Version)
King James Version (KJV)

19And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?

20He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?

21Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.
posted by vacapinta at 11:19 PM on January 20, 2007

Also from here:

To feed on ashes (Isa 44:20), means to seek that which will prove to be vain and unsatisfactory, and hence it denotes the unsatisfactory nature of idol-worship.

posted by vacapinta at 11:24 PM on January 20, 2007

Busy Old Fool's link seems like a good source, but I was surprised to read that the story it discusses (The Devil and Daniel Webster) was only written in 1938. It seems hard to believe that it originated there.

A little more searching turned up this page (go about halfway down or search), which cites a few earlier uses of the term, the earliest being "The fruit is turned to ashes in his mouth at the fancied moment of enjoyment..." Capt Frederick Marryat, The King's Own, ch 59 (1830). It notes subsequent uses by Melville in Typee, and Robert Lewis Stephenson in Weir of Hermiston and St. Ives.

You can read the passage from The King's Own here.

I had been looking for the Biblical reference, on Preview I see that Vacapinta found it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:32 PM on January 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

From Paradise Lost, the Tenth book via Bartleby

...suddenly into Serpents, according to his doom given in Paradise; then, deluded with a shew of the Forbidden Tree springing up before them, they, greedily reaching to take of the Fruit, chew dust and bitter ashes.
John Milton. (1608–1674).

I include this because I have often heard the phrase as the "bitter taste of ashes"
posted by b33j at 11:41 PM on January 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Apple of Sodom is probably also pertinent.
posted by zamboni at 3:53 AM on January 21, 2007

Wow great question. I was all ready to say the bible, but damn if google doesn't just turn up song lyrics.

I'm betting on proverbs, but having little luck.
posted by vronsky at 10:09 PM on January 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

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