When loaf takes on a new meaning

Coffin bread, spinach dipEvolution is not only confined to the biological world, there is evolution within language as well. Who would have thought that the humble loaf would have anything to do with our discussions about dying and death?

In The Story of English in 100 Words, David Crystal explores how words have evolved from times past and how they fall in and out of favour. Loaf is still in vogue but this is not so with all the associations that have been attached to it.

When we think of loaf the first thing that comes to mind is a loaf of bread.  From this connection with food we get a connection with money as in breadwinner and we get the connection with our state of mind, knowing on which side ones bread is buttered on and level of achievement, the best things since sliced bread.

Continuing on down through the ages and we have different kinds such as white loaf and brown loaf, loaf tin and lately mini-loaf; today there is the meat-loaf and so on it goes.

“But nobody could have predicted the 20th century use of loaf in Cockney rhyming slang.  The popular sounding loaf of bread replacing head. It soon reduced to simply loaf, especially in the phrase: Use your loaf, meaning ‘use your common sense’ “, writes David Crystal.

To top off our discussion we find that one usage had loaf of bread replacing dead.  “You can find it in Auden and Isherwood’s play The Dog beneath the Skin (III.iii.123):                   Oh how I cried when Alice died, The day we were to be wed! We never had our Roasted Duck, And now she’s a Loaf of Bread.”

In the new year we will continue to post stories about how the use of words relating to dying and death have been around for centuries.  That we tend to shy away from using the D-word does us no good.  We will continue to ‘expose’ all manner of D-words ‘going forward’  as the jargon would have it.  Suffice to say that in doing a spot of research for this post we came across many images for coffin bread as it is called in many Asian countries. Another subject to explore in coming months.


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