ESL Online Magazine

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The language of bread

Bread is not only a staple of the American diet but a common feature

Money and bread have a long-held relationship so much so that bread (or dough) have become slang terms for money. Similarly, a “breadwinner” is the person who makes the  money for the family. If I asked you, how you make your “bread and butter”, I would be asking what job you have (your means for making money). This phrase, “bread and butter,” can also be used as an adjective. A “bread-and-butter issue,” for example, is a political issue that affects ordinary people in their daily lives. Other bread idioms have infiltrated the English language as well. For example, “the upper crust” refers to the wealthy class of individuals. And, if you “know what side your bread is buttered on,” you know where your self-interests lie.

Sliced bread refers to bread that is sold already sliced. Sliced bread, invented in 1928, revolutionized the way that bread was packaged and sold. This shift in the sale of this important staple was so significant that a phrase eventually came into English, “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” This idiom is used to describe a new gadget or invention that improves people’s lives.

Bread phrases with Biblical origins. Many of the English language bread phrases originated from the Bible. For example, the phrase, “to break bread” means to share a meal and refers both to the bread shared in Christian Communion but also, more generally, as a meal shared with others. “Man does not live by bread alone” means that there is more to life than the physical sustenance. People need spiritual food as well as physical food. Finally, “cast bread upon the waters” is a Biblical phrase used in common English to mean to do good acts without expecting anything in return (though good may eventually come from them).

One of my favorite children’s books is called The Butter Battle Book by Doctor Seuss. This classic tale is a satire that pokes fun at the silly reasons that countries have for waging war on one another. A youtube version can be seen here:

Bread is so fundamental to Western cultures that it deserves more than one post. Stay tuned for later this week when I share my favorite bread recipe and as well as give you a classic poem on the topic that you can use to improve your pronunciation. Until then, here are a few questions for you to answer:

  • How do you earn your bread and butter?
  • In your opinion, what is one bread-and-butter issue?
  • Do you agree that “man does not live by bread alone?” If so, what else do people need?
  • In your opinion, what is a recent invention that could be described as the best thing since sliced bread?


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