Bread and Butter – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a saying to describe how important your job is in your life? You could say it’s your “bread and butter. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression “bread and butter” refers to your livelihood or income. If you have a job, then the money you receive through your salary is your “bread and butter,” as is your position at the firm. Since “bread and butter” describes sustenance and a popular morning meal, going without your “bread and butter” means you starve.

Hence, if you get fired from your job or lose your income stream, you have no money to buy food, and you starve. If you tell someone that something is your bread and butter, you rely on it for income. The phrase can also apply to businesses you own, contracts with other people that provide income, or investments that pay you monthly.

Your bread and butter can also refer to other things in your life that you can’t live without. For instance, you could say that your morning 5-mile run is your bread and butter and the foundation of your fitness program.

Example Usage

“We get over 80% of our business from one client. They are the bread and butter of this company, so we treat them like royalty.”

“We can’t afford to lose that account. They are this company's bread and butter. Without them, we’ll have to close our doors.”

“This job is all I have. It’s my bread and butter. Without it, I have nothing left in life. I can’t pay more bills or feed my family.”

“Please don’t fire me, sir. This job is all I have and my bread and butter. My family depends on me, so please, reconsider your decision.”

“Millions of people rely on social security as their bread and butter. Without their welfare and food stamps, they’ll go hungry, and we’ll have huge social unrest.”

“That’s what happens when the government takes away programs people rely on for their bread and butter. There is no escaping the damage they have done to the system.”


The expression “bread and butter” originates from the 1700s. The original definition of the phrase meant your basic needs to sustain yourself. The phrase changed its meaning during the 1800s to refer to a person’s livelihood or income.

If you’re using the expression as an adjective before a noun, you’ll usually hyphenate it as “bread-and-butter.”

“Bread and butter” is also a superstitious chant said by two people when they have to break contact after walking hand-in-hand. In this context, the first use of the saying appears in the “Federal Writers Project’s Guide to Kansas” in 1939.

Phrases Similar to Bread and Butter

  • Primary income stream.
  • Core business.

Phrases Opposite to Bread and Butter

  • Doesn’t pay the bills.
  • Doesn’t put food on the table.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Bread and butter.

Ways People May Say Bread and Butter Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with bread or butter. Bread and butter is a staple food in many countries and a primary source of sustenance for billions of people daily.

So, bread and butter refer to the source of income creation in your life. Using the saying to refer to money or your bank account is incorrect unless that investment is your primary source of income.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Bread and Butter

You can use the expression “bread and butter” when referring to your livelihood, like your job or business. It’s a way of referencing how you create income to pay your expenses. Without it, you would be on the street. The phrase suits social and professional use.

Use it at work to describe how your clients are your “bread and butter,” Without them, you wouldn’t have a business. Use it at home to explain how your work is your “bread and butter” and how you put food on the table for your family.

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