Ca ne mange pas de pain

Starter bread

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Ça ne mange pas de pain.”

Literally translated as, “It doesn’t eat bread,” it is used to say that a thing or an action can’t hurt: it may never amount to much or be of much use, but if it costs nothing and entails no risk, why not?

It is a colloquial expression that is usually delivered with a shrug, and when spoken, the ne and the de are often swallowed, so that you will hear it as, “Ça mange pas d’pain.”

Example: “Passe un coup de fil à ton médecin, ça ne mange pas de pain !” “Give your doctor a call, it doesn’t eat bread!”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

This expression dates back to the seventeenth century, when bread was the cornerstone of one’s diet, and therefore a symbol of food and sustenance in general. Consequently, if something didn’t eat any bread, i.e. if it didn’t eat into your supplies or make you any poorer, there was no reason to go without it.

This post is in honor of my very first loaf of starter bread, pictured above. You should hear more about it soon!

  • Once again, there is a word-by-word equivalent in German: ‘Das (fr)ißt doch kein Brot!’

    Amazing how alike the languages are, and how different at other times. Thanks a ton for running this series!

  • That audio file instantly transports me back to my college language lab! Loves it.

  • Congratulations on your starter bread! I began a starter last year with a bit of old dough from the no-knead bread (which I do knead a bit). I keep it in the fridge and feed it every week or so. I love the unique flavor and texture it brings to the finished loaf!

  • Love this series – and the audio file!I might steal the idea of the audio file actually…that is – if you don’t mind of course.

  • When I first read the definition, I read it as ability to eat and enjoy bread is equated with the ability to feel pain. If something can’t eat bread then it must not be harmed…haha, my mistake!

  • FN

    So, could it be translated as “There is nothing to lose”?

  • “Ça ne mange pas de pain.”

    Almost could be used for Celiacs too….haha. They don’t eat bread either.

  • That’s a new one to me. Have been enjoying the idioms – and also interesting to see from the comments how they often correspond in other languages.

  • i love love love you edible idioms. i have a question though – do the french really use them in every day situations or are they more ‘book-y’? i mean, we’ve all (probably) learnt the ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ in english, but i doubt if you’d hear an englishman say that.

    on a side note, like Reuben Morningchilde, i am amazed by the similarities of languages – in Lithuanian, we’ve got ‘valgyt neprašo’, which would literally translate to ‘it doesn’t ask for food’, as in ‘oh, the oil’s on sale; i’d better buy some – after all, it doesn’t ask for food’.

  • AJ

    I had to leave a comment because, as a native speaker, this is one of my favorite idioms to use. I love it, for some reason.

  • Reuben – So happy to learn of yet another German/French similarity!

    Julė – The idioms I’ve featured so far are all commonly used in conversation, and I’ve pointed out the “colloquial” ones that are used in a casual context only, and shouldn’t be used in serious writing.

    AJ – I love this one, too, it fits so many situations!

  • J’adore cette partie de ton blog, encore plus que tes merveilleuse recettes et photos….j’apprends beaucoup de expressions francaises que je vais esibir avec ma belle soeur!! :D

  • Throbert McGee

    As a lover of wordplay, I’m delighted by the accidental coincidence that “pas de pain” looks like it could be a French 101 student’s inept attempt at translating “it can’t hurt”!

  • Greg

    It’s at least a partial answer to the expression, “qu’est-ce qu’il mange en hiver?” [What’s that?], which I heard from my wife, who is Quebecoise.

  • Steve

    Englishmen certainly do use “it’s raining cats and dogs”, but wher eI’m from there’s more likely to be a reference to ‘it “urinating vulgarly” down’.

    We also say “it doesn’t eat anything”, used in much the same context as julė’s Lithuanian phrase above.

  • Marielle

    I just learned an idiom which we never use here in Quebec “Manger la grenouille“ I read the meaning but I still have no idea how this idiom originated…

  • Hello Clothilde,

    I’m glad to see my definition was pretty much the same as the one you give here. ;)

    Bye! :)

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