Bread and butter

Bread and butter

Bread and butter is a superstitious phrase from the 19th and early 20th centuries, typically used by young couples walking together when temporarily separated by an obstacle, such as a pole or another person.


The exact origin of the phrase is unknown, but etymologists suspect it dates back at least to the 19th century. The earliest citation listed by the "Dictionary of American Regional English" "is from The Federal Writers Project "Guide to Kansas" published in 1939, where the 'bread and butter' ritual is described as a 'ubiquitous' incantation among schoolchildren of the area. If it was ubiquitous in 1939, the ritual is probably much older, possibly dating back to at least the 19th century." [ [ The Word Detective] , Evan Morris, October 2, 1997.]


A couple is walking together, holding hands, and encounter an obstacle. Their hands separate, they say "bread and butter," pass the obstacle, and hold hands again. In this case, it is spoken to prevent bad luck that might happen as a result of being separated. [ [ Dictionary of American Idioms] , Adam Makkai, 1987] For example, this is seen several times in a repeated sequence in the 1963 "Twilight Zone" episode, "The Incredible World of Horace Ford", and is also mentioned in "Walking Distance", "Nick of Time" and "Kick the Can". ["Twilight Zone" episodes] More recently, the phrase appeared as the final words of the late Trudy Monk in the "Mr. Monk Meets Dale the Whale" episode of "Monk". [ [ Remembering Trudy] ]

The phrase was used in the Warner Bros. cartoons "A Day at the Zoo" (1939) and "Hare Trigger" (1945). It also turned up in an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show" in which Andy and Barney had to separate and walk around a utility pole. The phrase is also uttered by the character Jack McGee in the episode of The Incredible Hulk titled "Interview With the Hulk". Ronald Reagan (Drake McHugh) used it with Ann Sheridan (Randy Monaghan) in "Kings Row" (1942) after Parris Mitchell leaves on the train.

It is also a term used to refer to a primary ability or basic function. For example, an election campaign may say "Our focus is going to be on bread-and-butter issues."

The phrase is used by the White Queen in Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" in Chapter 5 'Wool and Water'.


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  • bread and butter — ˌbread and ˈbutter noun [singular] if something is your bread and butter, it is the thing that gives you your main income: • The paper s bread and butter is reporting local events in a small community . * * * bread and butter UK US noun [U]… …   Financial and business terms

  • Bread and butter — Bread Bread (br[e^]d), n. [AS. bre[ a]d; akin to OFries. br[=a]d, OS. br[=o]d, D. brood, G. brod, brot, Icel. brau[eth], Sw. & Dan. br[ o]d. The root is probably that of E. brew. [root]93. See {Brew}.] 1. An article of food made from flour or… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • bread-and-butter — adj [only before noun] 1.) BrE bread and butter questions are very important basic ones ▪ bread and butter political issues such as jobs and housing 2.) bread and butter work is work that is not very exciting but provides you with most of the… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • bread-and-butter — bread and but•ter [[t]ˈbrɛd nˈbʌt ər[/t]] adj. 1) providing a livelihood or reliable income: the agency s bread and butter accounts[/ex] 2) of or pertaining to the basic needs of life 3) basic or everyday; staple; routine 4) expressing thanks for …   From formal English to slang

  • bread and butter — issues are ones that affect people directly and in a very important way …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • bread and butter — noun uncount INFORMAL something that provides your main income: Tourism is the island s bread and butter …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • bread-and-butter — adjective very important or the most basic: a bread and butter issue …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • bread and butter — ► bread and butter a person s livelihood or main source of income. Main Entry: ↑bread …   English terms dictionary

  • bread and butter —    Bread and butter issues are ones that affect people directly and in a very important way.   (Dorking School Dictionary) …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions

  • bread-and-butter — [bred n but′ər] adj. 1. relating to subsistence or to the product, work, etc. basically relied on for earnings 2. basic, commonplace, everyday, etc. ☆ 3. expressing thanks, as a letter sent to one s host or hostess after a visit …   English World dictionary

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