know which side one’s bread is buttered on


  1. a kind of food made of flour or meal that has been mixed with milk or water, made into a dough or batter, with or without yeast or other leavening agent, and baked.
  2. food or sustenance; livelihood: to earn one’s bread.
  3. Slang. money.
  4. Ecclesiastical. the wafer or bread used in a Eucharistic service.

verb (used with object)

  1. Cookery. to cover with breadcrumbs or meal.
  1. break bread,
    1. to eat a meal, especially in companionable association with others.
    2. to distribute or participate in Communion.
  2. cast one’s bread upon the waters, to act generously or charitably with no thought of personal gain.
  3. know which side one’s bread is buttered on, to be aware of those things that are to one’s own advantage.
  4. take the bread out of someone’s mouth, to deprive someone of livelihood.


  1. a food made from a dough of flour or meal mixed with water or milk, usually raised with yeast or baking powder and then baked
  2. necessary food; nourishmentgive us our daily bread
  3. a slang word for money
  4. Christianity a small loaf, piece of bread, or wafer of unleavened bread used in the Eucharist
  5. bread and circuses something offered as a means of distracting attention from a problem or grievance
  6. break bread See break (def. 46)
  7. cast one’s bread upon the waters to do good without expectation of advantage or return
  8. to know which side one’s bread is buttered to know what to do in order to keep one’s advantages
  9. take the bread out of someone’s mouth to deprive someone of a livelihood


  1. (tr) to cover with breadcrumbs before cookingbreaded veal

Old English bread “bit, crumb, morsel; bread,” cognate with Old Norse brauð, Danish brød, Old Frisian brad, Middle Dutch brot, Dutch brood, German Brot. According to one theory [Watkins, etc.] from Proto-Germanic *brautham, which would be from the root of brew (v.) and refer to the leavening.

But OED argues at some length for the basic sense being not “cooked food” but “piece of food,” and the Old English word deriving from a Proto-Germanic *braudsmon- “fragments, bits” (cf. Old High German brosma “crumb,” Old English breotan “to break in pieces”) and being related to the root of break (v.). It cites Slovenian kruh “bread,” literally “a piece.”

Either way, by c.1200 it had replaced the usual Old English word for “bread,” which was hlaf (see loaf (n.)). Slang meaning “money” dates from 1940s, but cf. breadwinner. Bread-and-butter in the figurative sense of “basic needs” is from 1732. Bread and circuses (1914) is from Latin, in reference to food and entertainment provided by governments to keep the populace happy. “Duas tantum res anxius optat, Panem et circenses” [Juvenal, Sat. x.80].


“to dress with bread crumbs,” 1727, from bread (n.). Related: Breaded; breading.

In addition to the idioms beginning with bread

  • bread and butter

also see:

  • break bread
  • greatest thing since sliced bread
  • know which side of bread is buttered
  • take the bread out of someone’s mouth

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