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

Why does bread always fall butter side down?

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Why does bread always fall buttered side down?'?

The 'buttered side down' view of life is one that is pessimistic and fatalistic.

Of course, in reality, bread doesn't always fall buttered side down.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Why does bread always fall buttered side down?'?

The BBC broadcast a short programme based on this question in 2007. That 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.

Sadly, instead of that 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.

Why does bread always fall buttered side down?Of course, bread and toast don't always land butter or jam side down. Sometimes they do and they sometimes they 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.

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.

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