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<   No. 4545   2021-06-25   >

Comic #4545

1 Terry: Where are you staying while you’re here in Australia, Jane?
2 Jane Goodall: At a fancy hotel. Five stars, all the trimmings.
3 Terry: Really? I would have thought you would have been okay to rough it a bit more. Stay somewhere more economical.
4 Jane Goodall: I’ve lived with apes in Africa. I’m not about to do the same here.

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It's not clear to me after some Internet searching whether the phrase "all the trimmings" is used in the same more general sense in American English that it is in British/Australian English.

Idioms at The Free Dictionary says the phrase applies to accompaniments and condiments served with a meal, or to accessories and decorations making up part of a clothing outfit, but oddly provides no other types of usage.

This question at implies anecdotally that the phrase may be used in the USA only with respect to specifically a turkey dinner, and in fact for no other purpose, including other types of meals, although one answer mentions a "burger with all the trimmings" although pointing out that it's more usually "all the fixin's".

Collins Dictionary, a British dictionary, claims that the phrase refers to many extra things added to make something special, and gives the examples of a wedding, or of a turkey dinner. But then it goes on to state, confusingly, that usage referring to accompaniments to a meal is specifically British English.

Wiktionary is different again, saying that "trimmings" refers to accompaniments to a meal, with an additional meaning only in British English of "Domestic decorations for a room, especially Christmas decorations". However it makes no mention of the more broad usage of extras added to anything.

Merriam Webster, an American dictionary, gives only the food related meaning, but doesn't restrict it to turkey dinners.

The Online Etymology Dictionary states merely that "trimmings" are "adornments, accessories, etc.,".

This thread on StackExchange asks whether Americans would even understand what "all the trimmings" means these days, suggesting it may be archaic. Several responses state essentially that it's not used much in American English, but that people probably still understand it, at least if it were to be used in a food-related context. None of the responses mention any hint of a non-food-related context even existing.

The Cambridge Dictionary refers to trimmings as "other foods that are usually served with the main dish of a meal". It doesn't mention any broader use.

It may only be anecdotal, but in my experience "all the trimmings" is commonly used in much broader contexts than just food and Christmas decorations, or even outfits. Indeed, I asked my friends about it to confirm my experience, and one of them said that he had no idea the phrase was even supposed to be about food originally! I wrote this comic quite naturally and then thought later that an exploration of the phrase might make an interesting annotation. It turned out much more interesting than I suspected!

I'm very interested now to see if American readers consider the usage in the comic:

  1. Perfectly normal.
  2. Unusual, but comprehensible.
  3. Bizarre, but comprehensible with some thought.
  4. Completely incomprehensible.

Less than a day after publication and there's an active forum thread with many responses and I've received ten separate emails on the topic. The overwhelming consensus from American English speakers is that the comic usage of "all the trimmings" is: 2. Unusual, but comprehensible.

Most respondents said that they didn't even notice the usage or question the phrase until after reading the comic and starting on the annotation. They said in hindsight they thought it was an unusual context, as they had basically only ever seen it used to refer to meals, but that the metaphorical extension was so straightforward that they just accepted it without question. This reaction was uniform across almost every single response I've received so far.

Some commented that alternatives such as "all the bells and whistles" or "all the amenities" would have been more expected in this context. Interestingly, phrases that didn't occur to me when writing the script.

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