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What Does "Bring Home the Bacon" Mean?

"Bring home the bacon" is a colorful phrase that means to earn a living, particularly for one's family, ensuring financial stability and sustenance. It's rooted in traditions where successfully providing food symbolized prosperity. How did this expression evolve, and what does it reveal about our changing relationship with work and family? Join us as we uncover the story behind the saying.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

The idiom "bring home the bacon" is a term that usually has relevance to the individual or individuals within a household who are actively working outside the home and bring home some sort of income for their efforts. The origin of this fanciful English saying is somewhat debated, with some sources tracing the origin back to 12th century writings. "Bring home the bacon" has continued to be an idiomatic expression that is well understood in a number of English-speaking cultures, even as many households since the latter part of the 20th century function with the aid of at least two income earners.

One of the more common claimed origins for the expression dates back to the early years of the 12th century, and has to do with the gift of a side of bacon to a young couple who impressed a prominent local clergyperson with their deep devotion to one another. There is likely some truth to this legend, especially since this type of tradition is still alive and well in the area of Great Dunmow, Essex in the United Kingdom.

Two strips of fried bacon.
Two strips of fried bacon.

The use of the specific phrase "bring home the bacon" is somewhat more complicated, with the phrase appearing more commonly in 20th century publications, beginning with newspaper accounts connected with professional boxing matches. For this reason, there is some merit in seeing this particular idiomatic expression as being a product of the United States in the early years of that century, although there may be an underlying basis for older references to bacon that relate to money and livelihood.

In modern times, it's common for both parents to earn an income.
In modern times, it's common for both parents to earn an income.

Within the context of the prevailing culture during the first half of the 20th century, the term was often used as one means of delineating the responsibilities of each partner in a marriage. Men were expected to be the breadwinners and bring home the bacon, while women had the duty of taking care of home and hearth, making prudent use of the income generated by the husband to create a comfortable and pleasant home for that husband.

The phrase "bring home the bacon" was commonly used in newspaper accounts connected with professional boxing matches.
The phrase "bring home the bacon" was commonly used in newspaper accounts connected with professional boxing matches.

As gender roles and the structure of households became more varied during the second half of the 20th century, it become more common for more than one individual in the household to generate income and bring home the bacon. For this reason, the task of financially funding a household is rarely seen as the responsibility of any one individual, but the combined effort of two or more residents of the home. This has also led to shifts in understanding who is chiefly responsible for tasks such as the upkeep of the home and how each parent is involved in the act of raising children.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including LanguageHumanities, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including LanguageHumanities, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

turquoise

Although today, we consider this phrase to be about household income, it wasn't exactly that way in the beginning. I'm personally convinced that this idiom was coined by boxers or by people in the boxing world. "Bring home the bacon" meant "win the boxing match." Of course, it also meant, bring money by winning the match. And over the years, the phrase started meaning income in general and people now use it for all occupations. So it has become very generalized.

ZipLine

@serenesurface-- Who says that bacon is not a basic food? I know many people who consider it so. Many people love their bacon and will consider it an essential need. So household income does literally "bring home the bacon!"

serenesurface

I've heard of a similar idiom in other cultures that are along the lines of "bring home the bread." I think this idiom makes more sense because of the term "bread-winner," that is, the person that makes money for a household. Similarly, in Britain, they say "bread and butter" as in "everyone needs bread and butter." It refers to the income that buys the basics for a household.

"Bring home the bacon" is a bit strange in comparison to these other idioms simply because bacon is not really a basic food for households. Something like bread, pasta or rice would make more sense since these foods make up the basis of most cuisines around the world.

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    • Two strips of fried bacon.
      By: Viktor
      Two strips of fried bacon.
    • In modern times, it's common for both parents to earn an income.
      By: Edyta Pawlowska
      In modern times, it's common for both parents to earn an income.
    • The phrase "bring home the bacon" was commonly used in newspaper accounts connected with professional boxing matches.
      By: xixinxing
      The phrase "bring home the bacon" was commonly used in newspaper accounts connected with professional boxing matches.
    • In more modern times, a breadwinner is anyone who works outside of the home to support a family.
      By: berc
      In more modern times, a breadwinner is anyone who works outside of the home to support a family.