phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

The meaning and origin of the expression: Why does bread always fall buttered side down?

Home > Phrase Dictionary - Meanings and Origins > Why does bread always fall buttered side down?
Browse phrases beginning with:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T UV W XYZ - Full List

 


Why does bread always fall buttered side down?

more like this...
...other phrases about:

Meaning

An expression of a pessimistic view of life.

Origin

The BBC broadcast a short programme based on this question in 2007. Instead of what might have been an interesting investigation into why some people are pessimistic glass-half-empty people and others take an optimistic glass-half-full approach, we were presented with a rather silly pseudo-science attempt to explain the hydro-dynamics of bread and toast, as if the question were a real one. Of course, bread and toast don't always land butter or jam side down - they sometimes do and they sometimes don't, depending on circumstances.

The question is rhetorical, adding a long-suffering pessimistic weariness to similar unanswerable queries, like 'why did the chicken cross the road?' and 'why are the cameras always on this side of the pitch?'.

The 'buttered-side down' scenario is often cited as an example of Murphy's Law, or Sod's Law, that is, 'if anything can go wrong, it will'. In fact, it is a 19th century phrase/notion and long pre-dates Murphy, who was (probably) an American aerospace engineer and is credited with coining his 'law' in the late 1940s.

The Knickerbocker; or, New York Monthly Magazine published this little ditty in 1835:

I never had a slice of bread,
Particularly large and wide,
That did not fall upon the floor,
And always on the buttered side!

The idea that bad luck in some way causes bread to fall buttered side down was preceded by the converse, and no less perverse, superstition that bread falling buttered side down causes bad luck. This was recorded in John Timbs' popular science journal Knowledge for the People, published in Boston, USA, in 1832:

We may here notice a remarkable Latin superstition, that if a child's slice of bread and butter be let fall with the buttered side downwards, it is an unlucky omen ; if with the other side, lucky.

See also: the List of Proverbs.