25 Idioms About Bread and Dessert

By Mark Nichol

Wheat — the staff of life — and the baked products derived from it invite many idiomatic associations. Here are references to bread and other flour-based products in phrases and expressions.

1. “Bread and butter” refers to the basics in life.
2. “Bread and water” refers to the bare minimum of food and drink, based on the traditional punitive prison diet.
3. “The greatest thing since sliced bread” is something considered revolutionary and indispensable.
4. “Half a loaf is better than none” means that one shouldn’t complain about not having everything, because it is better to have something than nothing.
5. “Half baked” means “incomplete” or “not thoroughly planned or conceived.”
6. To know “which side (one’s) bread is buttered on” is to recognize what is advantageous.
7. To “sell (something) like hotcakes” is to be very successful at selling something.
8. To “separate the wheat from the chaff” is to distinguish what is useful or valuable from what is not.
9. Something that is “as flat as a pancake” is extremely flat.
10. Something “as warm as toast” is very warm and comforting.
11. To “have your cake and eat it, too” is to have or accomplish something more than one way; the phrase often refers to an unrealistic expectation.
12. Something “as easy as (apple) pie” is very simple to do or understand.
13–14. To “have (one’s) finger in the pie” is to be involved, but to “have (one’s) fingers in too many pies” is to be committed in too many endeavors, thus reducing one’s effectiveness.
15. “Icing on the cake” is an additional benefit.
16. An activity that is “like taking candy from a baby” is very easy.
17. Something that is “pie in the sky” is unrealistic.
18. Something that is “a piece of cake” is extraordinarily easy.
19. To get “a piece of the pie” is to be among those who earn an advantage or reward.
20. To “sugarcoat” something is to put it into a deceptively or inaccurately positive light.
21. Something that “takes the cake” is significantly better or worse than other comparable things; the phrase often refers to an action or comment that is audaciously irritating.
22. “That’s the way the cookie crumbles” means that what is referred to is an expected or typical outcome.
23. Someone or something “as nutty as a fruitcake” is crazy or ridiculous.
24. Something “as slow as molasses (in January)” is very slow.
25. Something “as sweet as honey” is very appealing.

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7 Responses to “25 Idioms About Bread and Dessert”

  • Name Withheld

    Thank you for these great phrases.

    If I may add the phrase “baker’s dozen,” (meaning thirteen) which according to some sources originates from:
    “…Bakers who were found to have shortchanged customers (some variations say that they would sell hollow bread) could be subject to severe punishment including judicial amputation of a hand. To guard against losing a hand to an axe, a baker would give 13 for the price of 12 in order to be certain of not being known as a cheat.”
    – Wikipedia

  • Warsaw Will

    Just as a matter of interest, in Britain I think we use “take the biscuit” rather more than “take the cake”.

    We also have a couple with bun:
    “to have a bun in the oven” – (informal, humorous) to be pregnant.
    “a bunfight” – (informal, humorous) an impressive or important party or other social event, an angry argument or discussion

  • Andrew Paschetto

    First, thank you very much for your newsletter. I read it every day, and I especially am grateful for your guidance on the proper use of commas and hyphens, and on correct parallel construction (weak points for me).
    Regarding your article on bread-and-dessert idioms, I wish to offer a tiny correction, and an absent and also commonly misquoted dessert idiom. Although it is nearly always quoted as, “Have your cake and eat it”, I firmly believe the form “Eat your cake and have it” is both truer to the idiom’s meaning and sequentially more challenging. After all, anyone who eats cake must first have it. However, you would be correct to point out that few misunderstand the phrase because of the order of actions.
    Now, how often have you heard, “The proof is in the pudding,” instead of, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating?” My brother, particularly irked by this one, claims the misquote conjures an image of a master sleuth digging into a pudding to produce a tightly folded paper with Whodunnit’s name on it.

  • thebluebird11

    @Andrew: You took the words out of my mouth about “eat [one’s]cake and have it, too.” When the phrase is reversed, it is no big deal; certainly one can have one’s cake and then eat it. The trick is to EAT it, and still HAVE it! Of course, looked at a different way, I still have cake I ate 10 years ago, on my hips LOL. I say, let them eat cake! Happy new year!

  • Sally

    Just to note that wheat is not the only grain used for bread or baking.

    And the mention of baking brings up the (cross-linguistic) question of occupational surnames – ‘Baker’ and its feminine form ‘Baxter’ being the relevant examples here.

  • Joe Kovacs

    You missed one “bread” idiom: “bread and circuses”. I believe this phrase dates back to the Roman Empire and reflects the belief that if the people are fed and entertained (i.e. the “bread” and “circuses”), there is little likelihood they will find the will to rise up against an otherwise corrupt and oppressive system. Reality television might be considered a modern-day equivalent of the gladiator fights in the Coliseum under Caesar. The fact that the “bread”, however, is no longer as easily accessible through rising food prices and lost employment in this terrible economy, leads to groups such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, who DO challenge the status quo. Bread and circuses, as a term, has as much validity today as it ever did.

  • Stephen Thorn

    Lest we forget:
    “Toss your cookies” means to vomit;
    “Breadbasket” is a euphemism for one’s stomach or solar plexus;
    “Cupcake” can be a term of endearment (as in “I love you, Cupcake,”) or a sexist insult (i.e. “Hey, Cupcake, how about some more coffee?”), depending on usage.

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