The Role of Bread in Greek Idioms

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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, 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, 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, (είναι ψωμοτύρι), meaning that it’s something that they do every day and are familiar with, just like eating bread and cheese.

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