Remember my previous post about bread-inspired idioms in Italian? I had a warm response from Twitter peeps, so I had the idea to enlist some lovely colleagues who would share similar idioms in other languages. It’s going to be extremely interesting, I promise!
The first guest post is by Sofia Polykreti from Earthlang: on this cold February Monday, she is going to take us all the way to Greece! I am sure you will find it as engaging as I did.
A parent comes into the car holding a bag full of hot bread loaves just bought from the bakery. Then, the bag is handed over to the child at the back seat and the child cuts off a big morsel, savouring at once the fresh bread.
Every Greek child has this memory from childhood.
The smell of freshly baked bread? Impossible to resist.
Interestingly, we are not using the Ancient Greek word for bread (άρτος). The Modern Greek word ψωμί derives from the word for morsel. However, the Ancient Greek word survives, but it belongs to a higher register and it is mostly used in religious contexts.
Bread has always been important to us Greeks. It is always part of every meal. Moreover, certain holidays have their special type of bread. The importance of bread in Greek culture is shown in the various idioms and fixed expressions found in the Greek language, and which correspond to the various metaphors built around bread:
BREAD = MOST ESSENTIAL FOOD
Bread for us is the most essential food. Bread, Education, Freedom, (Ψωμί, Παιδεία, Ελευθερία), was the main slogan of the 1973 uprising against the junta. Moreover, when we are old friends with someone, we say that we have shared bread and salt (έχουμε φάει ψωμί κι αλάτι). Or, we say your words have satisfied me, you can keep your bread (ο λόγος σου με χόρτασε και το ψωμί σου φάʼ το), when someone pays us a really good compliment. There is also a proverb which says when our son is sleeping, he’s not asking for bread (όταν κοιμάται ο γιόκας μου ψωμί δε μας γυρεύει), meaning he’s not asking for food, and this alludes to the avoidance of problems. The dreams of the hungry contain loaves of bread; it’s natural, when you miss something, you think and dream about it (ο πεινασμένος καρβέλια ονειρεύεται).
BREAD = STRENGTH
The importance of bread as our most basic food is also manifested in the metaphor which equals it with strength: He’s eaten all his bread = He’s not going to live much longer (τα έφαγε τα ψωμιά του). Also, if a novel has much bread (έχει πολύ ψωμί), it’s definitely going to give you many ideas for your essay. Finally, we can say that a certain guy is breaded; meaning he is muscular (ψωμωμένος).
BREAD = LIVING
Since bread is the most essential food, it’s natural that for us Greeks I earn my bread (βγάζω το ψωμί μου) equals to making a living. A funny expression: Look at what a man does in order to earn his bread, referring to someone who ridicules himself for a living, for example, a comedian (τι κάνει ο άνθρωπος για να βγάλει το ψωμί του).
BREAD = SOMETHING VERY LITTLE
Except for being the most basic food, bread can also represent a very little quantity. For example, a family, during the war, who sold their house for a piece of bread (για ένα κομμάτι ψωμί). Or, that woman is so poor; she doesn’t have bread to eat (δεν έχει ψωμί να φάει). When I was a kid, mum used to say that if tough days come again, we will refer to bread as dear bread (θα πούμε το ψωμί ψωμάκι). Τhese days came, but that’s another story. And bread, as we said, is the most essential food ever. This brings us to the next metaphor:
BREAD = SOMETHING ESSENTIAL
We don’t have bread, we don’t have cheese, but… voilà! Radishes, to whet our appetites! (Ψωμί, τυρί δεν έχουμε, ραπανάκια για την όρεξη). It is said when people lack the essential, but crave for the non-essential. As for the combination bread and cheese, this has ever been the all-time-classic snack that Greeks bring to work. In Greek, actually, there is one single compound word to express this notion, bread-with-cheese (ψωμοτύρι). And it is so essential, that there is also an idiom about it. For example, don’t be afraid, everything’s gonna go fine, these operations are bread-and-cheese for surgeons… (είναι ψωμοτύρι), meaning that it’s something that they do every day and are familiar with, just like eating bread and cheese.
It seems that these series on idioms with bread, has much bread, don’t you think?
Giulia, thanks so much for this opportunity! And thanks everyone for reading!
Thanks Sofia for taking part to this little foodie-linguist project, I hope you enjoyed it!
The next guest post will be with us next month- do not miss it, it is going to be about Romanian idioms!
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