It's one of those phrases most of us have heard our whole lives, but might have no idea where it actually came from. "Bring home the bacon," as it turns out, didn't originally have to do with making money, as it tends to mean today. It may have originated from a practice of people literally bringing home bacon. Intrigued?
What Does "Bringing Home the Bacon" Mean?
The definition of bring home the bacon is, essentially, to earn money, particularly as the head of one's family or the more successful partner in a marriage. Specifically, the Idioms Dictionary lists the following for meanings: "to go out and earn a living or earn money for the family," "to be successful or get an accomplishment," "to return home with a reward at the end of the day," or "to achieve something you had set out to achieve."
But the origin of the phrase may be much more literal than that.
Where Does the Phrase "Bringing Home the Bacon Come From?
The tale of the Dunmow Flitch may be the true origin behind the phrase, according to the Phrases Finder. "This tradition, which still continues every four years in Great Dunmow, Essex, is based on the story of a local couple who, in 1104, impressed the Prior of Little Dunmow with their marital devotion to the point that he awarded them a flitch of bacon," also known as a side of bacon, the site says. Geoffrey Chaucer even mentions it in The Wife of Bath's Tale and Prologue, the outlet notes.
Wonderopolis adds, "According to local legend, the church in Great Dunmow would award a side of bacon (called a 'flitch') to any man who could honestly say that he had not argued with his wife for a year and a day. Any such man would 'bring home the bacon' and be considered a role model." (Can you and your spouse say the same?)
But History Revealed has another origin story for the idiom. "Around the 16th-17th centuries, the term 'bacon' started to be used as slang for a person's body," the site reports. It continues:
When boxer Joe Gans was preparing for a fight with 'Battling' Oliver Nelson for the World Lightweight Championship on 3 September 1906, he was sent a telegram by his mother, which read: 'Joe, the eyes of the world are on you. Everybody says you ought to win. Peter Jackson will tell me the news and you bring home the bacon.'
The phrase reportedly started being used for other boxing matches, and the rest is history.
It seems unlikely that the boxing world is where the phrase comes from, considering the earlier use in literature, but it likely became more popular after that Gans match.
We use the phrase to this day, but who knew it may have come from an actual practice involving delicious bacon?