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What Does the "Greatest Thing since Sliced Bread" Mean?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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Sometimes presented as "the best thing since sliced bread," "the greatest thing since sliced bread" is an idiomatic expression that gained popularity during the first half of the 20th century and has remained in use in the years since. Typically, this idiom is used to express a sense that something is innovative, outstanding, and generally superior to something that has come before. A wide range of situations may trigger use of this particular English saying, ranging from the creation of an idea to the invention of some new product.

The origin of the idiom has to do with the offering of baked loaves of packaged bread from various retail outlets beginning during the 1920s. At that time, emerging supermarket chains began to offer loaves of bread that were mass produced and pre-sliced before reaching the market. This was a great innovation for the time, since most consumers purchased bread that required slicing at home, although some bakeries would slice loaves for customers once the purchase was complete. Since the slicing was automated, the thickness of each slice was more or less the same, a feature that delighted many customers and greatly increased the popularity of store-bought bread.

By the 1940s, referring to something as "the greatest thing since sliced bread" had become a relatively common expression in many parts of the world. Advances in technology and the creation of consumer products such as television sets, automatic dishwashers and an expanded range of features on the automobiles of the day were all seen as wonderful innovations. In an age when new and improved goods and services were announced regularly, the occasion to use this idiom was common, and it was often used both in word of mouth recommendations between consumers and in various types of media advertising.

Over time, this phrase moved beyond new products and was applied to other scenarios. Young lovers might say that the objects of their affection possessed this exalted status, or a supervisor or manager could give type of praise of this type to an idea developed by an employee that saves time and money for the company. Today, referring to something as being the best thing since sliced bread is still used in some circles, although the majority of consumers today cannot remember a time when pre-packaged loaves of bread were not sliced.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including Language & Humanities, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By shell4life — On Feb 09, 2012

My husband is a great cook, but he did not discover this until after he met me. He had been surviving on mostly fast food, but wanting to impress me, he made me a meal on our third date.

He had been around great cooks all his life, since his mother and sisters were all skilled in the kitchen. I suppose he had inadvertently picked up a few tricks here and there, and he was able to use his knowledge to concoct a new chicken dish that was simply amazing.

I told him that his culinary creation was the greatest thing since sliced bread. It was worthy of being served in a restaurant. All of our friends who have eaten it have agreed that it is delicious.

By Oceana — On Feb 08, 2012

@OeKc05 – My parents use this phrase often, too. In fact, in a roundabout way, it was responsible for getting them together.

My mother had a huge crush on my dad back in high school, but she was too shy to tell him. It just so happened that he thought she was pretty, but he didn't think she would go out with him.

My mother's little sister had a big mouth. One day at school, she was standing beside my mother when my father approached her and asked to borrow a pencil. Her sister said, “Of course, you can borrow her pencil. She only thinks you're the greatest thing since sliced bread!”

Of course, my mother was mortified and red-faced, but this gave my father the confidence he needed to ask her out. They have been together ever since!

By kylee07drg — On Feb 08, 2012

I understand how it would be a pain to always have to cut your own bread, especially if you did not have the option of purchasing sliced bread. However, I actually prefer to make my own loaves and cut them into pieces as I go.

This is because sometimes, I am really hungry and want a thick slice. Other times, I am on a diet and just need one about half the size as I usually eat.

So, I never use this phrase, because to me, sliced bread is not that great. I have heard many older people say it, though, and I get what they mean.

By OeKc05 — On Feb 07, 2012

I use this expression sometimes, and I credit my parents with the fact that I know it. They were born in the thirties, so this phrase was used a lot more back then.

I think it crept into my vocabulary when I was very young and I heard my dad telling my mother that VCRs were the greatest thing since sliced bread. He said it again when CD players came out.

I have since caught myself saying it in reference to smartphones, email, and video chat. I'm sure that my kids will one day be using it for new technology when they become adults. Seriously, this phrase may never disappear.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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