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Dr Klaus Bung
68 Brantfell Road
Blackburn BB1-8DL


© 2011 Klaus Bung

Teachers tell you WHAT to learn, IDYLL (R) shows you HOW to learn it.

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Klaus Bung:
You make my mouth water, qalbi

If you want food very badly because you like it very much or because you are hungry, then saliva starts running in your mouth, your mouth "waters", you salivate. So when we say "something makes your mouth water", it means that you like or want it very much. In this article you find a more detailed explanation of mouth watering and a large number of examples of this expression from English literature so that you see it used in context and imitate these examples in your own use of the language.

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2011-09-26 You make my mouth water, darling

I have been asked to explain the meaning of the English idiom "My mouth is watering". I will first give a general explanation, and then show with examples from English literature how this expression can be used in context for many different purposes.

General explanation

"My mouth is watering" means "I am very keen on something, I would very much like to do something, I would very much enjoy something".

Reason: When you chew food, the body (glands surrounding the mouth) produce a liquid called "saliva" /sə'laivə/ (stressed on second syllable)

This has to mixed into the food to prepare it for digestion in the stomach. "saliva" is a medical term. The colloquial term is "spittle" (hence the word "to spit"). To produce spittle is called "to salivate" (stressed on first syllable).

The body salivates not only while it is chewing but even in anticipation of eating and chewing. Especially if you are looking at food which you particularly like, if you smell it, or even if you see it in a beautiful photograph, or in a film, if somebody describes it, or you think or dream about it, your mouth may produce saliva.

By extension, the expressions "mouth watering", "it makes my mouth water", etc, are used even to refer to pleasant experiences NOT related to food. Below you will find many examples from English literature.

The phenomenon of salivation was the subject of a famous experiment by Russian psychologist Pavlov, who trained dogs to know that whenever a certain bell rang (or a similar signal was given), they would receive food. After a while, the dogs would salivate not only when they saw or smelt the food, but they would salivate when they heard the bell.

Examples from English literature

Anthony Trollope in his novel "Castle Richmond" (1860) describes a young woman who likes a young man, and who "hankers after" (= wants) certain jewels, etc.

Trollope says that her "mouth (was) watering for the flesh-pots of Egypt?"

I will not quote the full original sentence here because it contains so many additional difficulties which a learner must understand. The "flesh-pots of Egypt" refers to a story in the Bible, when the Israelites were held in capitivy in Egypt. Moses led them out of captivity, but they had to spend 40 years wandering throught he desert and suffering a lot. Often they were hungry. Then they complained to Moses and said: "We would prefer to be back in captivity in Egypt where we had enough to eat, even good meat, 'the flesh-pots of Egypt'.



Henry James in his novel "The American" (1877) has a character say: "Ah, but your poverty was your capital. Being an American, it was impossible you should remain what you were born, and being born poor—do I understand it?—it was therefore inevitable that you should become rich. You were in a position that makes one's *** mouth water ***; you looked round you and saw a world full of things you had only to step up to and take hold of."

In brief: If I want to be very rich and think of a very rich young man, it makes my mouth water. I want to be like him.


The hero of Herman Melville's novel "Mardi" (1849) finds ancient manuscripts in a vault, "brave old chronicles, that made Mohi's *** mouth water ***". Mohi looks forward to deciphering and reading them.


"Men don’t lose the fingers off their hands and get their faces chopped open just for nothing—nor sport rings that makes a ... pawnbroker’s *** mouth water ***.”

"sport rings" = "wear rings, display rings on their body".

Pawnbrokers love valuable rings. When they see a particularly valuable ring, their mouths water.

From: Jack London, "Michael, Brother of Jerry" (1917)


"The old chief held the tooth in his hands for a long time. It was a beautiful tooth, and he yearned for it. Also, he divined the request that must accompany it. "No, no; whale teeth were beautiful," and his *** mouth watered *** for it, but he passed it back to Erirola with many apologies."

From: Jack London: "The Whale Tooth" (South Sea Tales, 1911)

"Toward the end we came to the charted country of Japan. But the people would have no dealings with us, and two sworded officials, in sweeping robes of silk that made Captain Johannes Maartens’ *** mouth water ***, came aboard of us and politely requested us to begone. Under their suave manners was the iron of a warlike race, and we knew, and went our way."

From: Jack London: "The Jacket" (also published as: "The Star Rover") (1915)


"An' you'll see alfalfa growin' that'll make your *** mouth water ***."

(And you will see alfalfa growing that will make your mouth water).

From: Jack London: "The Valley of the Moon" (1913)

"The decorations of the room had been centred on the mantelpiece; the chief ornament consisted of a pear and an apple, a pineapple, a bunch of grapes, and several fat plums, all very beautifully done in wax, as was the fashion about the middle of this most glorious reign. They were appropriately coloured—the apple blushing red, the grapes an inky black, emerald green leaves were scattered here and there to lend finish, and the whole was mounted on an ebonised stand covered with black velvet, and protected from dust and dirt by a beautiful glass cover bordered with red plush. Liza's eyes rested on this with approbation, and the pineapple quite made her *** mouth water ***. At either end of the mantelpiece were pink jars with blue flowers on the front; round the top in Gothic letters of gold was inscribed: 'A Present from a Friend'—these were products of a later, but not less artistic age."

The fruit which makes Liza's mouth water is made of china.

From: Somerset Maugham: "Liza of Lambeth" (1897)



"Often they discussed things he knew nothing about, and then he sat quietly, with a good-natured smile on his handsome face, feeling quite rightly that his presence was sufficient contribution to the entertainment of the company. When he discovered that Macalister was a stockbroker he was eager for tips; and Macalister, with his grave smile, told him what fortunes he could have made if he had bought certain stock at certain times. It made Philip's *** mouth water ***, for in one way and another he was spending more than he had expected, and it would have suited him very well to make a little money by the easy method Macalister suggested."

From: Somerset Maugham: "Of Human Bondage" (1915)


"The pandanus cigarettes that Sally made him with untiring hands were strong and pleasant enough to smoke, but they left him unsatisfied; and he yearned on a sudden for real tobacco, hard, rank, and pungent. He had not smoked a pipe for many, months. His *** mouth watered *** at the thought of it. One would have thought some premonition of harm would have made Sally seek to dissuade him, but love possessed her so completely that it never occurred to her any power on earth could take him from her. They went up into the hills together and gathered a great basket of wild oranges, green, but sweet and juicy; and they picked plantains from around the hut, and coconuts from their trees, and breadfruit and mangoes; and they carried them down to the cove. They loaded the unstable canoe with them, and Red and the native boy who had brought them the news of the ship paddled along outside the reef."

From: Somerset Maugham: "The Trembling of a Leaf" (1921)

"Coffee! My, how good it smelled. Billy's *** mouth watered ***. But the voice—that interested Billy almost as much as the preparations for the coming meal."

From: Edgar Rice Burroughs: "The Mucker" (1914)



"The silence following so closely the previous tumult carried a sinister impression to the ape-man, which still further aroused his anger. Picking the bird from where it had fallen he withdrew his arrow from the body and returned it to his quiver. Then with his knife he quickly and deftly removed the skin and feathers together. He ate angrily, growling as though actually menaced by a near-by foe, and perhaps, too, his growls were partially induced by the fact that he did not care for the flesh of birds. Better this, however, than nothing and from what his senses had told him there was no flesh in the vicinity such as he was accustomed to and cared most for. How he would have enjoyed a juicy haunch from Pacco, the zebra, or a steak from the loin of Gorgo, the buffalo! The very thought made his *** mouth water *** and increased his resentment against this unnatural forest that harbored no such delicious quarry."

From: Edgar Rice Burroughs: "Tarzan Untamed" (1919)


"And then he went on more slowly and with greater stealth and caution, for now Tarzan of the Apes was seeking a kill. Down to the ground he came in the utter blackness of the close-set boles and the overhanging verdure of the jungle. He stooped from time to time and put his nose close to earth. He sought and found a wide game trail and at last his nostrils were rewarded with the scent of the fresh spoor of Bara, the deer. Tarzan's *** mouth watered *** and a low growl escaped his patrician lips. Sloughed from him was the last vestige of artificial caste—once again he was the primeval hunter—the first man—the highest caste type of the human race."

"Tarzan looked out across the familiar vista with no faintest gleam of recognition in his eyes. He saw the game animals, and his mouth watered ..."

From: Edgar Rice Burroughs: "Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar" (1916)


"The next step was fire. She might learn to eat raw flesh as had her lord and master; but she shrank from that. The thought even was repulsive. She had, however, a plan for fire. She had given the matter thought, but had been too busy to put it into execution so long as fire could be of no immediate use to her. Now it was different—she had something to cook and *** her mouth watered *** for the flesh of her kill. She would grill it above glowing embers. Jane hastened to her tree. Among the treasures she had gathered in the bed of the stream were several pieces of volcanic glass, clear as crystal. She sought until she had found the one in mind, which was convex. Then she hurried to the ground and gathered a little pile of powdered bark that was very dry, and some dead leaves and grasses that had lain long in the hot sun. Near at hand she arranged a supply of dead twigs and branches—small and large."

From: Edgar Rice Burroughs: "Tarzan the Terrible" (1921)

"Presently he heard an animal approaching warily along the trail toward the drinking place. A moment more and it came in view—it was Horta, the boar. Here was delicious meat—and Tarzan's *** mouth watered ***."

From: Edgar Rice Burroughs: "The Return of Tarzan" (1915)

"[FN#163] This may sound exaggerated to English ears, but a petty Indian Prince, such as the Gßikwßr, or Rajah of Baroda, would be preceded in state processions by several led horses all whose housings and saddles were gold studded with diamonds. The sight *** made one's mouth water ***."

From: Richard Burton, footnotes to the "Arabian Nights".


<He leaned forward staring at me, slowly unclenched his hand and drew it across his mouth as if his *** mouth watered for me ***, and sat down again.

"You was always in Old Orlick's way since ever you was a child. You goes out of his way this present night. He'll have no more on you. You're dead."

I felt that I had come to the brink of my grave. For a moment I looked wildly round my trap for any chance of escape; but there was none. >

This quote contains colloquial English, which is ungrammatical by the standards of written English.

From: Dickens: "Great Expectations", Chapter 53


"See here now," Bob went on, becoming rapid again, and holding up a scarlet woollen Kerchief with an embroidered wreath in the corner; "here's a thing to make a lass's *** mouth water ***, ...

Bob is trying to sell this handkerchief. A girl (= a lass) will love a handkerchief which is so beautifully embroidered.

From: George Eliot: "The Mill on the Floss" (1860)


"My *** mouth waters ***, my cheek brightens, at the sight of good things."

From: H G Wells: "The Research Magnificent" (1915)


"The ministerial Roby knew well how he would make his sister-in-law's *** mouth water *** by such an allusion as this to the great privilege of entering the Prime Minister's mansion in Carlton Terrace."

From: Anthony Trollope: "The Prime Minister" (1876)

"The dining-room, library, drawing-rooms, and breakfast-room, were all large and well-arranged. The hall was handsome and spacious, and the bed-rooms were sufficiently numerous to make an auctioneer’s mouth water."

This house would make the auctioneer's mouth water because it is worth a lot and he would make a lot of profit if he were told to sell it.

From: Anthony Trollope: "The Claverings" (1867)

"The sources of the Nile, of which men now talk so much,—I see it in the papers and reviews which the ladies at Framley are so good as to send to my wife,—do not interest me much. I have no ambition to climb Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn; Rome makes my *** mouth water *** but little, nor even Athens much. I can realize without seeing all that Athens could show me, and can fancy that the existing truth would destroy more than it would build up. But to have stood on Calvary!"

"mouth water but little" (but little = only little): Rome makes his mouth water only little, i.e. he is not very excited by Rome. His greatest desire is to stand on Calvary (the hill on which Jesus was crucified).

From: Anthony Trollope: "The Last Chronicle of Barset" (1867)

"Mr Palliser received political letters from England, which made his *** mouth water *** sadly, and was often very fidgety."

Mr Palliser is home-sick. He wished he were back home in England.

From: Anthony Trollope: "Can You Forgive Her?" (1865)

"The idea of having the two extra fields made Larry's *** mouth water ***, in spite of all his misfortunes. The desire for land among such as Larry Twentyman is almost a disease in England. With these two fields he would be able to walk almost round Dillsborough Wood without quitting his own property."

From: Anthony Trollope: "The American Senator" (1877)

"He ... took a resolution to follow his game, and to see whether even yet he might not obtain the good things which had made his eyes glisten and his *** mouth water ***. He knew that there was very much against him in the race that he was desirous of running ..."

From: Anthony Trollope: "Miss Mackenzie" (1865)

" ... this whole region is blanketed with Indian tales and traditions. But I reminded him that people usually merely mention this fact - doing it in a way to make a body's *** mouth water *** ...

"a body's" = somebody's

From Mark Twain: "Life on the Mississippi" (1883)


"Tom's *** mouth watered *** for the apple, but he stuck to his work."

From Mark Twain: "Tom Sawyer" (1876)

"A cabbage! Oh, don't name it—it makes my mouth water. Talk of things less trying."

The boy is very hungry. Even something as boring as a cabbage makes his mouth water.

From Mark Twain: "Is he Living or is he Dead?" (short-story in "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories")

"Sometimes the widow would take me one side and talk about Providence in a way to make a body's *** mouth water ***."

The widow talks to the boy about God (Providence) in such a way as to make any boy's mouth water. She says that God will give him everything he asks for, like a fishing rod, a foot ball, or whatever boys like.

From Mark Twain: "Huckleberry Finn" (1885)

"The struggling Journal had swallowed up those advance-payments, but its "claim" was a severe one and they had failed to cure it. But Nixon cured it in his diligent three years, and joyously reported the news that he had cleared off all the debts and now had a fat six thousand dollars in the bank. It made Mrs. Eddy's *** mouth water ***."

From Mark Twain: "Christian Science" (1907)


<Accordingly, he took occasion to introduce into his sermon one Sunday, in his little parish, an account of a journey he took; and how he was "very warm and very dry;" and how he saw a fine orchard of peaches that made his *** mouth water *** to look at them. "So," says he, "I came up to the fence and looked all around, for I would not have touched one of them without leave for all the world. At last I spied a man, and says I, 'Mister, won't you give me some of your peaches?'>

The man was hot and thirsty. He saw ripe peaches, which made his mouth water, he wanted them so badly. But he would not take even one of them without permission.

From: Harriet Beecher Stowe: "The May Flower, and Miscellaneous Writings" (1834)

<<"Gully," said Cashel, his eyes sparkling, "I should like to see one of those chaps we saw on the common pitch into the doctor—get him on the ropes, you know."

Gully's *** mouth watered ***. "Yes," he said, breathlessly ... >>

Gully and Cashel, two school boys, want two strong men (the chaps they saw fighting on the common) to beat up their head-master (the Doctor). Gully thinks this is a wonderful idea. Therefore his mouth waters.

From: George Bernard Shaw: "Cashel Byron's Profession" (1882)

Quote starts:
CLEOPATRA (skipping like a young fawn). Yes, to dinner. I have ordered SUCH a dinner for you, Caesar!

CAESAR. Ay? What are we to have?

CLEOPATRA. Peacocks' brains.

CAESAR (as if his *** mouth watered ***). Peacocks' brains, Apollodorus!

APOLLODORUS. Not for me. I prefer nightingales' tongues. (He goes to one of the two covers set side by side.)

CLEOPATRA. Roast boar, Rufio!

Quote ends

Caesar and Cleopatra are discussing the delicacies (food) which will be served for dinner. Caesar does not like what is offered but out of politeness he responds as if he were delighted (as if his mouth watered).

From: George Bernard Shaw: "Caesar and Cleopatra" (1898)

These are the examples of "mouth watering" which I have been able to find. There were many of them, as you can see. I also found many examples of "saliva", but not usually in contexts were it means that a person desires something.

saliva and salivate

"But the eggs! He liked to eat them. They were the only article of food he liked to eat, They gave him reminiscent thrills of the ancient food-desires of his youth. Actually was he hungry when he had megapode eggs, and the well-nigh dried founts of *** saliva *** and of internal digestive juices were stimulated to flow again at contemplation of a megapode egg prepared for the eating."

He liked eggs. The fountains of his saliva were stimulated and started flowing again when he looked at ( = contemplated) eggs.

From: Jack London: Jerry of the Islands (1917)

"He came out of a doze that was half nightmare, to see the red-hued she-wolf before him. She was not more than half a dozen feet away sitting in the snow and wistfully regarding him. The two dogs were whimpering and snarling at his feet, but she took no notice of them. She was looking at the man, and for some time he returned her look. There was nothing threatening about her. She looked at him merely with a great wistfulness, but he knew it to be the wistfulness of an equally great hunger. He was the food, and the sight of him excited in her the gustatory sensations. Her mouth opened, the *** saliva *** drooled forth, and she licked her chops with the pleasure of anticipation."

A hungry wolf looks at a man. She saliva runs out of the wolf's mouth (= drools forth) when the wolf thinks how tasty this man will be.

From: Jack London: "White Fang" (1906)

Teachers tell you WHAT to learn, IDYLL (R) shows you HOW to learn it.