Avoir du pain sur la planche

Literally translated as, having bread on the board, the informal French expression avoir du pain sur la planche means having a lot of work to do, or having a lot on one’s plate, with the added notion that the tasks in question are somewhat tedious. Note that this is the first idiom in our series for which the English equivalent also draws upon a culinary image.


Most of us would assume that the board referred to here was une planche à pain (a bread cutting board) or a simple planche à découper (a cutting board) — the difference between the two is that the former includes some sort of crumb-collecting contraption — and that “having bread on the board” meant that you had lots of slicing to do. And if the loaf was a bit stale, it would take some effort to work your way through it. History, however, is steering us in a slightly different direction - surprise, surprise.

The expression goes back several centuries and used to have another meaning entirely: it meant that your future was well provided for. In other words, you had enough bread stocked up (on a bread board nailed high so rodents wouldn’t get to it) that you wouldn’t go hungry. When, in the 20th century, people grew accustomed to consuming fresh bread rather than dense loaves that kept for weeks, the bread and board started to evoke instead the uncooked loaves that the boulanger (baker) lines up on a board to rise. The concept of “having bread on the board” then shifted to mean that the baker still had a lot of work to do before his bread was ready to sell - although one might argue that by the time the loaves are kneaded and shaped, the bulk of the work is done.


Profitez bien du weekend, lundi on va avoir du pain sur la planche.

Enjoy the weekend, on Monday we’re going to have a lot of work to do.

Il reste du pain sur la planche!

There’s still a lot to do!