Yummy French idiom N°6 : Avoir du pain sur la planche

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Avoir du pain sur la planche is a very common French proverb which has a surprising history 😯 !

Avoir du pain sur la planche
Avoir du pain sur la planche
Avoir du pain sur la planche audio

This one is a bit of a guessing game ! 😊 Now what do you think this very popular French expression means in English: let’s have a look at the picture :

Some bread board 🍞
Some bread

Two French words :
 “du pain” = some bread
 “sur la planche” = on the bread board

It literaly means “to have bread on the bread board” ?!?

What can it possibly mean ? Is it destined for bread enthusiastic? To find out let’s have a look at the origin quite “miam miam” French expression ! 😀

Avoir du pain sur la planche : origin

avoir du pain sur la planche origin
Photo by Vural Yavas on Pexels.com

The original meaning of this French expression starts at the end of the 19th century. It meant then that we had enough reserves to face the future. In fact at that time the peasants were preparing large quantities of bread which they kept on a wooden board fixed to the ceiling.

Little by little however the meaning changed and this is probably due to a change in living standards. Indeed the consumption of bread changed, we no longer kept some bread hanging from the ceiling but bought it fresh from the bakery.

The baker prepared the bread by preparing first some dough which he shaped in small balls on a plank and the more balls of dough he had to bake, the more work he had to do which could be one explanations as to the current meaning of the expression : ‘avoir du pain sur la planche’.

Subsequently, the expression took on the meaning ‘to have enough to live on without having to work‘.

Yet another plausible explanation for the origin of this expression could come from the prison world. In the 19th century, the court distributed rations of bread to defendants who would have to serve long terms of forced labor. This is where the ideas of length and painfulness formulated in this expression would come from.

This story was relayed by Claude Duneton. According to him, this French expression would go back first to a slang expression used by criminals, “la planche à pain” = “the bread board”, which designated the court (alluding to its elevated position like the boards in the ceilings where bread was kept).

In addition, in this period of royalty, “manger le pain du roi” = “to eat the king’s bread” meant being in prison or in the galleys (or in the army), the bread being provided free of charge by the State, therefore the king.

The combination of these two expressions made the criminals assimilate the years of hardship or prison nicely distributed by the court (kinds of rations) to as many ‘pain sur la planche‘ = ‘bread on the board’, the latter then taking the meaning of ‘chores ‘, where they used to mean’ resources’

Another hypothesis is based on the expression ‘pin sur la planche‘ = ‘pine on the plank’ and refers to the carpenter working a pine plank.

Of all these definitions and origins, which one then is the current definition in French for this French expression : avoir du pain sur la planche ?

Avoir du pain sur la planche: French definition

avoir du pain sur la planche French definition
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Avoir beaucoup à faire

“To have a lot to do”

So it is simply to be overwhelmed by work, such as the baker with all the “pâtons” of bread on his bread board, waiting to be baked, yummy ! 😋

Avoir du pain sur la planche : Example in French

Je ne sais pas par où commencer tant j’ai tant à faire, j’ai vraiment du pain sur la planche

I don’t know where to start because I have so much to do, I have really a lot to do !

Avoir du pain sur la planche : Translation in English

Some sites have translated ‘avoir du pain sur la planche’ by ‘to have a lot on one’s plate‘ but I don’t agree because I do not think that this French idiom has got any emotional meaning attached to it ! I therefore did not find any specific English idiom that could compare, please let me know in the comment if you find one ! I would therefore translate ‘avoir du pain sur la planche’ very simply like this :

Avoir du pain sur la planche

To have a lot to do

Voilà, this was today’s French idiom in English, I hope you liked it. Click here to find out about the challenge of 50 French idioms in English.

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And I’ll see you tomorrow for more French idioms in English ! 👍🇫🇷🧡

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