Yesterday, a column in the New York Times introduced us to the world’s saddest breakfast, a joyless health-focused meal based around “a third of a can of soup, heated in the microwave for three minutes.”
Today I submit to you that there are not many phrases more bleak and dispiriting than “a third of a can of soup.” Half of a can of soup is a normal quantity of soup to consume. A quarter of a can of soup is obviously not enough for a meal, so if you see that phrase it’s clear that the soup is only being used as a flavoring agent. A third of a can of soup sits right in the sad spot. It’s insufficiency. It’s a sign of impoverishment, or of ascetic self-denial. It is the antithesis of satisfaction. You have to heat it in the microwave, because if you put a third of a can of soup into a pot on the stove and actually had to confront it while it was heating, you’d weep, which would oversalt the soup.
Yes, I have been thinking about this a lot.
Today I call on all of you to work with me and turn “a third of a can of soup” into a generally recognized slang phrase meaning “sad and depressing” — not to apply to like, humanitarian atrocities, but for something that is melancholic or philosophically troubling. E.g.,:
Person 1: “Between Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat, I feel like we really can’t consider the New York Times the paper of record any more. Journalism is in a bad way these days.”
Person 2: “Seriously. It’s like a third of a can of soup.”
Person 2: “Seriously. I still read it sometimes, but it’s like eating a third of a can of soup.”
Person 2: “Seriously. Third of a can.”
At this point, Person 1 can merely nod in a sage but dejected manner, or can choose to respond, saying forlornly:
“Right? Heated in the microwave for three minutes.”
“Right? Three minutes in the microwave.”
That’s the next level, though. For today, let’s work on the “third of a can” part. Personally, my preferred usage would be the third, short-form option, but you do what feels right to you.