I heard a good Russian(?) saying that I like, which is, "the baker never buys his bread," as in, "bakers aren't wealthy people, but at least they always have bread." Kind of like if you were a shop mechanic, at least you'd be able to fix your car when it breaks down.

The problem is, when I use it, people don't understand the idiom, then I have to explain it. Is there something similar in English? I feel like there is.

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    I would think the more appropriate phrasing to convey the meaning you want would be something like "The baker never needs to buy bread". I can't think of a common idiom off the top of my head but I think this would be more understood than what you're saying... regardless, it doesn't have any implication that the baker is poor, only that his work gives him the bread he needs for the day... and you could argue that, technically, he does pay for the ingredients, so he does still pay for it to some degree. – Catija Jul 10 '15 at 15:56
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    @SomethingDark - that it what it sounds like, which is why JFA needs to explain his intent to others, and why his question about a better alternative for his meaning is a good one. – stevesliva Jul 10 '15 at 16:03
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    Just seeing the title - before clicking through to read the full question - the first thing that came to mind was "the shoemaker's children go barefoot", which means that after you've done your job all day for other people you don't want to do it at home too. (In your mechanic example, I suppose it would be "the mechanic's car is always broken down.") I realize it's not what you're looking for, but now I'm curious: how many proverbs like this - with similar setups but completely different conclusions - are there? – MT_Head Jul 10 '15 at 16:04
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    @SomethingDark, I'd go along with that if the proverb said "the baker doesn't eat his own bread." – Kristina Lopez Jul 10 '15 at 16:21
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    Saying he never buys his bread can be taken to mean that he doesn't like what he bakes, so he buys bread from somebody else! No wonder people misunderstand! – Brian Hitchcock Jul 11 '15 at 13:01

10 Answers 10

up vote 33 down vote accepted

The proverb in English is "The baker never wants for bread."

Although this is not exactly well-known, the meaning is clear and shouldn't need an explanation. (sentence edited - see comment by Mar-Lou A)

Example

Labour has a golden soil and the baker never wants for bread. - The Southern literary messenger http://goo.gl/DDwv2G


Note: X never wants for Y was once a common idiom. It has declined in use these days. (sentence edited - see comment by Janus Bahs Jacquet)

e.g. "His daughter is a spoiled brat. She never wants for anything."

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    The citation appears to be an English translation of the German proverb.I checked "The baker never wants for bread" and Google reveals only 3 results for this saying. Please provide a reference which "proves" this was once a common English proverb. – Mari-Lou A Jul 11 '15 at 4:16
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    I have done a bit of research and I found nothing that supports your claim that "The baker never wants for bread" is a little-known English proverb. On the contrary, it has never been an old English proverb. See: A COLLECTION OF PROVERBS OF ALL NATIONS ON BREAD AND BAKING First published in 1924. – Mari-Lou A Jul 11 '15 at 13:16
  • I would question the assertion that X never wants for Y is common. It is an accepted meaning of the phrasal verb want for, but it’s hardly common—on the contrary, it’s rather formal and old-fashioned to me. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 11 '15 at 17:45
  • @Mari-LouA - Thanks for your comment. It reminds me to be a bit more rigorous. I didn't actually claim it was common. I said what it was "in English", i.e. "in translation". Nevertheless you are right to pull me up and I have amended the following sentence in order to be clearer. – chasly from UK Jul 15 '15 at 10:33
  • Nice try with making it seem I misunderstood. Your original post said: Although this has fallen out of use (it used to be common), which was later amended to: Although this is little known nowadays (it used to be well-known). The truth of the matter is that you discovered a good translation of an unknown, possibly of German origin, proverb. – Mari-Lou A Jul 15 '15 at 12:20

There is an English proverb (actually, frequently attributed as a Chinese proverb) that is widely used that goes:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

The nuance is not the same, but it does have the gestalt of elevating the destitute and feeding the hungry. You might get your point across without having to dissect if you substitute a fisherman or fishmonger for your baker.

A man who knows how to fish never goes hungry.

A fisherman never has to buy a meal.

Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, though.

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    I don't think these quite hit the nail on the head, the idea is that someone with these kind of physical skills may be poor and may be hungry, but at least they will never have to pay someone to do this sort of job. – JFA Jul 10 '15 at 18:07
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    Don't you mean "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day..."? Otherwise that's a pretty impressive fish (or it's poison and he'll be dying soon!) – Sabre Jul 10 '15 at 18:25
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    Thank you Sabre and Ben. You have brought honor to my post. – Patrick M Jul 10 '15 at 19:28
  • @Sabre You never know, it might be a fugu. ;-) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 11 '15 at 23:50

Unfortunately, I have not been able to trace the OP's proverb, and not through lack of trying. The closest English proverb that I did find is said to originate from Norfolk

If you keep a fairy loaf you will never want bread
Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology (2013)

An older variation has

If you keep a fairy loaf in the house, you will never want for bread.

Signs, omens and superstitions (1918) By Astra Cielo

A fairy loaf, also called a Pharisee Loaf, was the name given for Fossil echini, a fossilized sea-urchin, which were sometimes discovered after ploughing the fields.

"Pharisee" for "Fairy" seems to be a Sussex thing. Fossil echinoids which looked like bread loaves were called both "Fairy Loaves" and "Pharisee Loaves" there. They were once used as charms when baking to make the bread rise to the right shape. Probably, "Pharisee" is just a corruption of the word "Fairy".

Leprechauns, fairies and little people

An image of an Echinoid shows how people might have been fooled into thinking these were ancient miniature loaves of bread

enter image description here

There is however a common Italian dialect proverb that goes

(Piedmont) Chi a l'à un mestè per le man, a j manca mai pì pan
(Italian) Chi ha un mestiere in man, dappertutto trova pan
Dizionario dei proverbi italiani e dialettali

Which loosely translated means:
He who has a trade will never be short of bread

A similar German proverb: jegliches Handwerk nahrt seinen Mann

The English equivalent is (which rhymes and makes perfect sense):

A trade in hand finds gold in every land

Source: Dictionary of European Proverbs

Converting my comment to an answer:

I would think the more appropriate phrasing to convey the meaning you want would be something like:

The baker never needs to buy bread.

I can't think of a common English version of this idiom off the top of my head but I think this would be more understood than how you've currently translated it. The issue with the translation in your question is that the use of the word "his" can be unclear.

the baker never buys his bread

This can be interpreted in two ways, the way you intend (I'm guessing) and another, more negative way:

  1. The baker always has bread, so he doesn't need to buy the bread for his table.

  2. The baker doesn't like his own bread, so he gets bread from another bakery.

My version of this statement removes the ambiguity and only allows the first interpretation.

Regardless of all of this, there's nothing in the English version that gives any implication that the baker is poor, only that his work gives him the bread he needs for the day.

I don't know the Russian saying or what the actual meaning of it is, but in English, there's a sub-definition of "bread" that implies all "food [or] sustenance", not strictly bread. It's most notably part of the Lord's Prayer

Give us this day our daily bread

So, I suppose the concept of literal bread being the bare minimum for the more figurative bread could get you a little bit of that implication of surviving on the bare necessities of life.

Additionally, if you want to be pedantic, you could argue that, technically, he does pay for the ingredients, so he does still "buy" it to some degree.


Similar concept that I thought of when thinking through this answer:

  • Don't go to the barber with the best haircut.

This is more similar to the second case I mentioned above... Barbers can scarcely be expected to cut their own hair, so the one with the best haircut is clearly not the best barber... it's the person who cut his hair.

I have a dad who is a former breadman, and he would use the phrase "[the breadman] always brings home the bread." (usually referring to himself) It's not an exact match but it's similar enough. It's a similar idiom to the term "bringing home the bacon" referring to the primary money-earner of a household. You could see it as a morphism of that phrase.

Due to the U.S.'s capitalist economy, you might see the phrase "bringing home the bacon" as the equivalent, because although the primary money-earner of a household doesn't necessarily make the bacon, they generate the wealth which is used to buy it. I imagine there are many more laborers in the US who make references to this phrase when referring to their chosen profession. A butcher, for example, would use the phrase "Bringing home the bacon" as a direct subversion of the original meaning, referring to the literal bacon he/she/etc brings home, and not the money. However, for other working persons, it could be bringing home the orange juice, the ice cream, the TV's, the cars, or any other number of physical goods, as a morphed version of the original phrase.

In my dad's case, he didn't bake the bread though, he delivered it.

  • "The butcher always brings home the bacon"? – Matt Gutting Jul 10 '15 at 16:51
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    This isn't it at all. – JFA Jul 10 '15 at 18:14

If you become a chef, you will never go hungry.

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" It means when you have difficulties in life, use them to your advantage.

I don't know, but I did find an 1845 printing with your quote. On page 402 it appears in a story that was translated from GERMAN into English. Slight Causes. From the German of Zchokke (Translated for the Southern Literary Messenger)

German vs Russian

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    I disagree on this phrase being equivalent to the one in the question. “Making lemonade” means creating opportunities, while the baker consuming their own bread means that there's a necessity they don't have to worry about. – Arturo Torres Sánchez Jul 12 '15 at 1:34
  • Yes, it's not the same. We seem to be hard put to find something that is the same. At least, I found it to be a translation from German. Though, you can't make bread without the ingredients. Either way, it's a good saying. – Taomerline Jul 12 '15 at 3:06

"Don't Get High On Your Own Supply" has a very different meaning but sounds quite similar. Instead of taking all the free bread you want the saying implies good business practice would preclude you from eating your own product. That or the saying is purely based on the effects of the drugs and therefore irrelevant to this discussion.

  • This was the first thing to come to my mind upon reading the title, but the body of the question shows an opposite intent. Never get high on your own supply is business advice that would discourage the baker from eating too much of his own bread. – Preston Jul 12 '15 at 0:18

Well, the first one that come to mind, being a gamer is the saying

"...at least I have chicken..."

It is a reference to Leeroy Jenkins. It's a modern meme, of course. Only a select crowd will understand it, but it may be useful if you are speaking to such a person. I have used it a few times to convey the idea of being in a bad place and destitute but still having a small comfort, and it was understood in this context.

I found a similar idiom that is self explanatory, if not a bit sardonic; "A bad veterinarian never goes hungry."

"A blessing in disguise" is a more general, broad interpretation.

Or, simply, "Count your Blessings". It simply means to be appreciative of what one does have. That may be the context you are looking for.

"A fisherman never goes hungry", as mentioned, is one I have heard before. It means that one in their trade always has that need met; though it can be interpreted slightly differently.

My mom is cuban and she's always saying this phrase "En casa del herrero cuchillo de palo", i think it means "In the blacksmith's house wooden knife". i dont know but i think its related to your question. I hope it's useful

protected by Matt E. Эллен Jul 15 '15 at 7:01

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