From time to time, you may have heard the phrase “bring home the bacon.” Did you ever wonder what that means? It sounds like what you might want to hear your parents say when they return from the grocery store.
Actually, though, “bring home the bacon” is a common phrase used to mean earning money. If you’re “bringing home the bacon,” then you’re making money to bring home to your family. It’s also used sometimes to mean that, not only are you earning money, but you’re also successful and earning a lot of money.
One popular story holds that the phrase originated in the 1100s in the small town of Great Dunmow in Essex, England. 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.
Others believe the phrase got started in the 1500s at country fairs. One of the most popular contests at these fairs involved catching a greased pig. Obviously, this was not easy to do. The prize for catching the pig was that you got to keep it. So, if you won, you got to “bring home the bacon.”
These old tales may have some truth to them, but other experts believe the phrase is a modern American saying that dates back no farther than the early 1900s. Bacon didn’t always mean the strips of pork we think of today. Years ago, bacon was used to refer to all pork, in general.
The word bacon itself comes from old German and French words for “back,” since the best cuts of pork come from the back and sides of the animal. Since the 1600s, the word “bacon” has been used as a slang term for one’s body. Because people often associate the body with one’s ability to work and earn money, it’s believed that bacon eventually took on that connotation, too.
One way of earning money with one’s body back then was the sport of boxing. It’s from this context that the first ever recorded use of the phrase comes. On September 3, 1906, boxer Joe Gans fought Oliver Nelson for the world lightweight championship in Goldfield, Nevada.
According to the Reno Evening Gazette, Joe received a telegram from his mother before the fight. It 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."
Mrs. Gans was probably repeating a phrase she had heard and used before, but hers was the first usage that experts can find. Before long, the phrase was being used commonly in boxing, and it also quickly moved to other sports.