Meaning of the Common French Idiom 'Avoir du Pain sur la Planche'

What French expression with 'pain' means there's still a lot of work to do?

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With all the French boulangeries (bread bakeries) and pâtisseries (pastry shops), where bread is sometimes sold, too), you wonder why anyone would still make their own bread. And that's exactly what this common expression refers to.

Meaning of 'Avoir du Pain sur la Planche'

Believe it or not, making bread is really hard work. The dough is simple enough, but then you have to work it, and that takes time and a lot of energy.

This expression literally means "to have some bread on the wooden board." But the actual meaning refers broadly to the difficult process of making bread: You have to make the dough, let it rise, roll it out, shape it, let that rise, and bake it. Imagine doing this at home every few days several times over. Thus, the phrase really means: to have a lot to do, to have a lot on one's plate, to have one's work cut out for oneself, to have a lot of work ahead. 


J'ai dix articles à écrire pour About. I have 10 articles to write for About.

J'ai encore du pain sur la planche! I still have a lot of work ahead of me!

As you can see in this example, we often say avoir encore du pain sur la planche.

Bread has been a staple in the French diet since the ancient Gauls. Granted, for most of that time it was a much denser, heavier loaf than the light, crusty baguette of today. So when people had dough on their wooden bread board, they knew they had a lot of work ahead of them. Even though home bread making is no longer common in France, the essence of the process—the very hard work—has been etched in the French memory. It survives with a new memory of stopping at the boulangerie every day for a warm, aromatic loaf, usually a baguette.

Delicate as this bread may seem, it's still plenty utilitarian: Slices of baguette become tartines with butter and marmalade for breakfast; long sections of, say, six inches get split in half lengthwise and filled with a little butter, cheese and ham for light lunchtime sandwiches; and hunks are cut or torn off for dinner to soak up delicious sauces and juices. French bread can also become something of an eating utensil, with one hand holding a fork or spoon while the other hand uses a smallish piece of baguette to push food onto the metal utensil.

Because bread is a staple that's deeply ingrained in the culture, French bread has inspired tens of expressions in the language, from gagner son pain (to make a living) to nul pain sans peine (no pain, no gain) and tremper son pain de larmes (to be in despair).

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Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "Meaning of the Common French Idiom 'Avoir du Pain sur la Planche'." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. (2020, August 26). Meaning of the Common French Idiom 'Avoir du Pain sur la Planche'. Retrieved from Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "Meaning of the Common French Idiom 'Avoir du Pain sur la Planche'." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).