Long comme un jour sans pain


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, “Long comme un jour sans pain.”

A literal translation would be, “as long as a day without bread,” and it is used to express that something is very long — in reference to physical length (a long road, a long list) or, more frequently, to the duration of an event (a long speech, a long wait) — and dreary.

I have found a couple of sources suggesting that an English equivalent was, “like a month of Sundays,” but I’ve never heard or seen it used myself — perhaps one of you can confirm?

Example: “Tu as bien fait de ne pas venir à la conférence, c’était long comme un jour sans pain.” “You did well not to attend the conference, it was as long as a day without bread.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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

Like most idioms having to do with bread (see also: ça ne mange pas de pain), this one dates back to a time when bread was the foundation of the average Frenchman’s diet: if there was no bread to be had, it really meant that there was no food at all. And if you were to spend an entire day without food, then surely that day would feel excruciatingly long.

When it originally appeared in the seventeenth century, this idiom was an expression of length only, either physical or temporal. It’s not until the eighteenth century that it took on a secondary notion of dullness, based on the idea that what seems unending is also likely to be boring.

Speaking of hunger, today is World Food Day, a World Food Program event to raise awareness about the billion people on the planet who go hungry every day, and raise funds to reduce chronic hunger and undernutrition. See what you can do to take part, and consider making a donation if you can.

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