What is the origin of the phrase ‘the best thing since sliced bread?’ Also, what was the best thing BEFORE the ‘creation’ of sliced bread?
An article in today’s Washington Post mentions a bit about this. It doesn’t attribute the phrase to a specific source, but it does say:
Cassell’s Dictionary Of Slang dates the expression from the 1960’s.
There was a show on the history channel recently on sandwiches and this was covered. I thought I might actually be able to answer someone’s question, but I was beaten to the punch.
I was certain Cecil had done a column on this subject, but the search engine came up empty.
Anyhoo, here’s the word detective.
Hm, I imagine that conversation went something like this:
Person A: “This is the best thing since fellatio.”
Person B: [holding up a slice of bread] “Not anymore.”
I bet Person A is a male, and Person B is his wife. Poor guy
(I didn’t mean that sexist in any way, shape, or form)
In this scenario, A is clearly referring to an item which we shall call X.
A is saying that X is the best thing since fellatio. There is now something better than fellatio, which is X.
B asserts that Sliced Bread is now better than X, he does not claim that Sliced Bread is better than fellatio.
Therefore the question What was the best thing before the creation of sliced bread? is satisfied by X, and not by fellatio.
So the answer is sliced bread?
Interesting analysis, however the saying “the best thing since sliced bread” has been used repetitively (often more than once by the same person). This would redefine “the best thing” as whatever object, experience, or event was being discussed at that time. In actuality, sliced bread probably held that title for a very short time, especially in comparison to previous “best things” such as fellatio. To complicate the issue, the same thing could resurface as “the best thing” periodically. For example, someone could declare that X is the best thing since sliced bread, but another person could argue that fellatio always has been and still remains the best thing. This could remind the first person that, yes, fellatio is in fact better than sliced bread and X. In the matter of only moments, the best thing went from sliced bread to X and then to fellatio, while fellatio remained the best thing for the other person. The best thing, therefore, remains a personal preference, but I sincerely doubt that sliced bread is very close to the top of most people’s lists.
There was actually a reason why sliced bread was considered a good thing™. While the Word Detective exaggerated slightly in his references to “large lumpy” loaves, his point regarding the extra effort required to deal with such loaves is valid.
It takes a very sharp knife, a good eye, and a steay hand to slice a loaf into many pieces of roughly equal width. Hand-sliced bread is wonderful with butter, but it is difficult to make into sandwiches (particularly if you’re making sandwiches for a dad and a half-dozen kids each morning as they leave for work and school). Sliced bread was a genuine convenience, and most people are much more appreciative of convenience than they are of sex. (They tend to expect sex–convenience is always an unexpected pleasure.)
I’d always heard from my Grandfather that the best thing before sliced bread was matches. Sometimes wooden matches, sometimes paper matches. Sometimes it was “the hottest thing since matches”.
I think that it was the Food Channel that recently did the bit on bread manufacture and mentioned the “best thing since sliced bread” as being of mid to late 1920’s origin. My Grandfather was already an adult out in the professional world by then, but having grown up on a ranch in the 1890’s to 1910’s time frame would have put the development of his set of personal metaphors before sliced bread. And matches would have been a really convienent thing there and then.
I therefore have to agree with Tomndebb that to qualify as a “best thing since”, whatever it is has to be viewed as a convienence rather than a necessity or luxury.
I think I know what’s confusing everybody (except me).
We are attempting to answer the second question posed by marekd viz., What was the best thing before the creation of sliced bread?
This is clearly the wrong question. The correct question is, What was the best thing benchmark* before the creation of sliced bread?*
In the example we have chosen above the answer is fellatio, but even fellatio is not always satisfactory, sorry no cite.
Let us take four independent historical inventions at random, say 1) fellatio (1924), 2) liquid fuel rocket (1926) 3) sliced bread (1928) and 4) scotch tape (1930).
Many may have argued, in 1926, that the liquid fuel rocket was the best thing since fellatio. No problem so far. Sliced Bread then comes along, but the liquid fuel rocket is still the best thing since fellatio as the liquid fuel rocket precedes Sliced Bread and therefore can’t be the best thing since Sliced Bread.
Fast forward to 1930 and scotch tape, which can be described as the best thing since Sliced Bread as it succeeds the advent of that product.
What remains undetermined is whether or not Sliced Bread is better than fellatio. Perhaps Sliced Bread became a more suitable reference point for personal metaphors than fellatio, as matches were the benchmark for JCHeckler’s grandfather.
A little history lesson from The Simpsons:
The story of the Simpson family began in the Old Country. I forget which one exactly. My dad would drone on and on about America. He thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, sliced bread having been invented the previous winter.