Michelle Sullivan Communications

I digress …

I love etymology. I’ve blogged about this already, but Charles Hodgson’s new book, Carnal Knowledge, which was recently released in the States, is starting to cross the border into Canadian bookstores. Yesterday’s trek to Vancouver’s Chapters told me my visit was still premature, so I’m looking forward to picking it up when I fly to Toronto at the end of the week. Maybe even at the airport, Charles? His podcasts are perfect, short snippets of delicious information about the words we use and love.

The reason for my post? Other than to gloat once again about rubbing shoulders with a published author? Well, I learned the cool origin of an expression just now. I love it – thought I’d share :

Bread is buttered

Meaning : A person or place that has the potential to enrich.

Example : When her boss says jump, she says « how high », only because she knows where her bread is buttered.

Origin : The actual phrase is « knows which side her bread is buttered on. » It is a reference to a Yiddish folk tale of the Wise men of Chelm.

In the tale, Chelm was a city in Poland where the people were incredibly stupid. One day someone dropped a piece of bread; it landed butter side up! Experience and Murphy’s law tells us bread always falls buttered side down, the wise men of Chelm gathered to ponder why the bread landed buttered side up.

After a week the verdict was that the bread had been buttered on the wrong side.

So… the phrase means « I’m not an idiot » (unlike the Wise men of Chelm). 1

Cool hmm?

So this blog entry is dedicated, not only to Charles, to whom I wish only the best with his book launch, but to my good friends from Montreal who are currently touring in their native Poland. Krzysztof Rucinski (a.k.a. Symeon Ruta) and (Marius) Nowak from Gedeon Jerubbaal : Great guys. I love them to death. Check out their MySpace page. They play in Ostroda on Saturday, if you happen to be in the neighbourhood.

1. source : http://members.aol.com/MorelandC/HaveOriginsData.htm

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  1. Charles Hodgson

    2007.08.14 @ 16:56

    I seem to remember CBC’s Quirks and Quarks doing a piece on the physics of toast falling butter side down.

    But I took a moment and found that back in the mid 1500s there was a guy in England named John Haywood who produced a book of proverbs and what-do-you-know, one of them was to know on which syde my bread is buttred meaning « having the sense to know where one’s interests lie. »

    I see also that Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says that « Bread never falls but on its buttered side » is an old north country proverb, although they don’t give a date (nor explain the north of which country).

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