Best thing since sliced bread: how idioms are formed

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Last week, I decided I was tired of egg and toast for breakfast, so I ate muesli for five days. This week I ran out of bread and it would be a while until I could get to the shops. By the end of the week I was really missing my bread.

It got me thinking about the idiom, ‘the best thing since sliced bread’ so I did some research on why sliced bread is so great.

The story goes that sliced bread was first introduced in 1928 by Otto Frederick Rohwedder from Davenport, Iowa. He apparently invented the first loaf-at-a-time bread slicing machine. However, the idiomatic express was first recorded in 1952, where the famous comedian Red Skelton said in an interview with the Salisbury Times: “Don’t worry about television. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

Slice of toast

By the 1930s, pre-sliced bread was fully commercialised. At the same time standardisation was reinforced by other inventions that required uniform slices, such as toasters, says “The common phrase, ‘the best thing since sliced bread’, as a way of hyping a new product or invention may have come into use based on an advertising slogan for Wonder Bread, the first commercial manufacturer of pre-wrapped, pre-sliced bread,” it says.

Bread is a household staple and with its new format of ready-slices Americans were rushing to buy loaves of the leavened dough.

Age of invention

Automated bread-making not only changed the way bread was being consumed, but it was a benchmark of mechanisation as an integral part of daily lives from the 1930s onward.

The expression ‘the best thing since sliced bread’ is used as a way to appreciate a new invention, product or idea.

Smart phones might have been the best thing since sliced bread 10 years ago, but now we have talking apps such as Siri, Alexa and Cortana that stop just short of making you tea.

Who knows what’s next? Whatever it is, you can be sure it will be the best thing since sliced bread.

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