Avoir du pain sur la planche…an apt expression for today

The annual contest to find the ‘best baguette of Paris’ has been won - with the winning baker given the job of supplying bread to the Elysée and the president for the next year

28 September 2021

Learn French words and expressions you may hear in the news today Pic: The-Connexion

Tunisian-born Makram Akrout beat more than 172 entries from bakers across the city to win the title, which also includes €4,000 in prize money.

The 42-year-old, who is the son of a baker, came to France as an immigrant 19 years ago. He worked in 2019’s winning bakery but recently opened his own bakery, Les Boulangers de Reuilly in the 12th arrondissement.

He could now be said to ‘have bread on the board’ (avoir du pain sur la planche’), meaning ‘to have a lot to do / a lot on his plate’.
The expression has its origins in the 19th century, although it used to have a completely different meaning. Back then, when peasants lived off mainly bread, the phrase meant that one had enough food reserves for the future and, in particular, to last a long winter.
The expression took on the meaning we know today early in the 20th century. 

This is likely because in the 19th century, criminals serving long sentences would be served rations of bread on wooden boards. 

These criminals would often have to endure hard labour, hence in the 20th century the image of bread on a board began to be associated with hardship and tedium.
Here are two other bread-theme expressions you may hear in everyday French.

‘Ne pas manger de ce pain-là’, which means to refuse to do or participate in something you don’t agree with. Usually, this will be something illegal or immoral. The phrase translates to ‘to not eat that bread’.
‘Manger son pain blanc en/le premier’ (‘to eat the white bread first’), on the other hand, has multiple interpretations. It means to be in an advantageous situation or to start with the best (and leave the worst until last).
This is due to the fact that in the 17th century, peasants’ bread would often be a grey-ish colour due to various impurities, whereas the upper classes would buy white bread made with expensive flour.

Hence, the white bread symbolises something good or ‘better’, in both interpretations of the expression.

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