What is the best thing since sliced bread?

What kind of food do you eat every morning and is easily found anywhere in the world? If your answer is “bread”, that’s right! A few days ago I came across the phrase “One’s daily bread” which is the equivalent expression to the Portuguese “pão nosso de cada dia”. I didn’t resist the curiosity and I decided to research more on these idioms that have the word “bread” in its structure.

Not only the matters of the expressions are curious, but also the fact that bread is food present in human history for thousands of years. Bread origins are so ancient that it is even difficult to define where and when it first appeared. However, it is estimated that it happened in ancient Mesopotamia about 12,000 years ago. That’s enough time for various nations and languages to develop and incorporate “bread idioms”.

Bringing together a few phrases I could see how meanings vary completely. Not all languages have the same expressions and there are a few phrases that can’t be translated literally. The expression “ser mamão com açúcar” (“papaya with sugar” in Portuguese) is equivalent to “ser pan y miel” (“bread and honey” in Spanish), or “to be a piece of cake” in English.

An expression easily found among the three languages mentioned above is “to take the bread out of someone’s mouth,” “tirar o pão da boca de alguém” (in Portuguese) and “quitarse el pan de la boca” (in Spanish). I wonder how such expression, which means harming someone so bad that the person loses their living, has emerged. After doing small research, I discovered that in the Ancient Egypt, bread was used as currency for work payment. Such phrases could be related to that time? Hard to say if we consider how much time has passed.

In contrast to such phrases, in which bread is considered essential in one’s life are the idioms: “to get on bread and water”, “ficar a pão e água” (in Portuguese) and “estar a pan y agua” (in Spanish). They all mean that someone is going through hardship and have his or her resources reduced to meager bread and water. Suddenly the bread has lost the character of “majesty” as in previous expressions.

For some people “bread” has strong religious connotation and the word can be easily found in Christian prayers. Another curious Portuguese expression, without similar translation, is “comer o pão que o diabo amassou”, whose meaning is to go through terrible trials and difficult situations and the literal translation would be “to eat the bread devil has made”!

Are there any curious expressions involving the word bread in your mother tongue? I’ll be awaiting your comments!



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