Saucy Secrets

Certain words and phrases achieve popularity, however momentarily, before disappearing from conversation. Their waxing and waning is as unpredictable as tomorrow’s winning lottery number and often as ephemeral as tissue paper, albeit far less rewarding.

“See you later, alligator,” “Jeepers!” and “Golly” are unuttered expressions today. No one says them anymore. No one. It’s a scientific fact. You can look it up.

Though once popular and commonly heard (try watching a movie from the 30s or 40s), your likelihood of entering any of the three expressions into conversation of any kind again resembles the elusive winning ticket number.

“Cool” was hip until it became “hep,” back in the 50s. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. Until the 90s when, inexplicably, it reentered the popular lexicon.

Recently, “gotcha” became the expression du jour. A response suitable for anything, it resolved nothing.

But it was fun to say. Purposefully melding two previously separate and logically unconnected terms – “Got-You” – it rolled off the tongue and spilled out of the mouth fluidly.

Maybe that’s the wrong metaphor. I dunno. Oops.

An even more recent entry in the race from terribly hip to ignominious cliché is “Secret Sauce,” and has gained broad, popular parlance.

From realtors to university provosts, the phrase has percolated its way to top-of-the-pot adoration.

High-minded users intend a metaphoric meaning associated with a non-empirical mysticism as possessed by the very special and exclusive few.

Let’s think about this.

Just what is so secret about sauce? At an Italian restaurant, do you not notice the sauce on your plate? It’s the red stuff covering, more or less, the pasta.

At the stereotypic roadside diner, sauce is the brown stuff accompanying the meatloaf and, maybe, if it’s a real diner, coating the fries.

And at the snooty foodie bistro that’s currently trendy, it’s the thick, off-white liquid companion your filet’s parked on top of.

Sauce isn’t secret. It never was. It’s obvious, precisely the opposite of what speakers who use the expression intend.

“Secret sauce” is about as secret as Victoria’s. There is no secret. Everything’s upfront (pardon the expression) and plain to see, leaving little to the imagination.

What is secret about the sauce is how your grandmother prepared it. The recipe and ingredients.

And you know your grandmother. Though she would write out the recipe, she always omitted something. A pinch of this and a dash of that.

Pinches and dashes, as everyone knows, are two very distinct, precise units of measure. Again, you can look this up.

That’s what’s secret about the sauce.

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