phrases, sayings, proverbs and idioms at
Home button Home | Search the website Search | Phrase Dictionary | Half a loaf is better than no bread

The meaning and origin of the expression: Half a loaf is better than no bread

Half a loaf is better than no bread

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Half a loaf is better than no bread'?

Something, even if it isn't what you ideally would prefer, is better than nothing.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Half a loaf is better than no bread'?

Half a loaf is better than no bread.This proverbial saying is first found in the same place as many other proverbial sayings - John Heywood's 1546 glossary A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue:

Throwe no gyft agayne at the giuers head,
For better is halfe a lofe then no bread.

Many proverbs are a form of condensed popular wisdom and 'half a loaf is better than no bread' seems like plain common sense - few would argue with it. Nevertheless, in psychology experiments to determine whether fairness was an innate concept in humans or whether it was learned, pairs of UK and US children have been set the following test:

One child is offered four sweets (or candy if you prefer) and the other is offered one. The child with the opportunity to take four sweets is given this choice:

A. Either, you get four sweets and the other child gets one.

B. Or, you both get nothing.

Surprisingly to many, children routinely choose option B and reject the sweets, preferring to maintain a sense of fairness. In purely material terms this makes little sense as, by maintaining fairness, the choosing child robs the partner of one sweet and him/herself of four.

Heywood might have suggested 'throw no gift at the giver's head' but children don't appear to agree.

See also: the List of Proverbs.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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