Why Are Inferior Things Referred to as “Chopped Liver”?

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Political journalist/author Elizabeth Drew reportedly once accepted a chopped liver hors d'oeuvre at a Washington D.C. cocktail party and pronounced it “delicious.” “Why do people derogate it so?” she wondered.

The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang pinpoints comedian Jimmy Durante as the first person to use this meaty metaphor to describe something trivial or to be scoffed at; he was known to give praise on his CBS-TV series by noting, “Now that ain’t chopped liver.”

Even earlier than that, however, Joey Adams included this bit of dialogue in his 1949 novel The Curtain Never Falls in a conversation between a (supposedly fictional) comedian named Jackie Mason and a smitten showgirl who was hurt by his inattention:

“You’ve been nice enough, but what am I, chopped liver or something?” “Are you kiddin’? You’re the sexiest-looking thing up here. But you always seemed interested in all the shmoes.”

According to Ohr Somayach’s “Ask the Rabbi” column, chopped liver suffers from “always a bridesmaid, never the bride” syndrome. On any traditional Jewish dinner or buffet table, chopped liver is either an appetizer or a side dish, meant to be a complement to the entrée, but never taking center stage. To break it down into elementary school playground terms: When it comes to choosing folks to be on a team, the first person chosen is the brisket, and everyone else is chopped liver.

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