Long comme un jour sans pain

Baguettes

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Long comme un jour sans pain.”

A literal translation would be, “as long as a day without bread,” and it is used to express that something is very long — in reference to physical length (a long road, a long list) or, more frequently, to the duration of an event (a long speech, a long wait) — and dreary.

I have found a couple of sources suggesting that an English equivalent was, “like a month of Sundays,” but I’ve never heard or seen it used myself — perhaps one of you can confirm?

Example: “Tu as bien fait de ne pas venir à la conférence, c’était long comme un jour sans pain.” “You did well not to attend the conference, it was as long as a day without bread.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:


(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

Like most idioms having to do with bread (see also: ça ne mange pas de pain), this one dates back to a time when bread was the foundation of the average Frenchman’s diet: if there was no bread to be had, it really meant that there was no food at all. And if you were to spend an entire day without food, then surely that day would feel excruciatingly long.

When it originally appeared in the seventeenth century, this idiom was an expression of length only, either physical or temporal. It’s not until the eighteenth century that it took on a secondary notion of dullness, based on the idea that what seems unending is also likely to be boring.

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  • Joal Taylor

    I would have said that a close English equivalent is “as long as a wet week.” But I’m not sure how popular it is. It was a well-worn phrase in our household growing up (in Sydney, Australia).

  • Sian

    I’m British and I’ve heard the saying “as long as a month of Sundays”-you’re right though it’s not so common, probably because Sundays aren’t so quiet these days!

    But I think “Long comme un jour sans pain” seems much worse than a month of sundays to me, the latter sound quite relaxing!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/wgj_dublin William

    Yes, “a month of Sundays” is usually used to indicate how rare something is, most often used as “never in a month of Sundays” or “not in a month of Sundays”

    Keep up the idioms (or is that idia?). They’re very interesting, and could compile inta a great little Christmas book. Perhaps you thought of this already?

  • Barbara

    My mother used to say “donkey’s years” which basically meant a long time. As in: I haven’t seen her in donkey’s years.

  • http://www.areweinparisyet.blogspot.com Shelli

    This idiom just came up in conversation the other day. It’s very French, isn’t it? Three whole meals in a row without bread is enough to depress any French(wo)man.

    And yes, the English idiom is meant to indicate infrequency or unlikelihood: “You wouldn’t see that in a month of Sundays.”

    While ‘donkey’s years” does mean a long time, it’s usually used to mean a long time has passed since a similar occurrence, not that something dragged on and on unpleasantly.

  • http://www.theteachercooks The Teacher Cooks

    A month of Sundays means that it happens infrequently. It is not used alot today. My mother used it quite often. Interesting that these idioms have to do with bread.

  • maria-jose

    In Spain, we have the exact same expresion: Más largo que un dia sin pan.

  • http://www.zwirnstern.de Katrin

    I don’t know an English equivalent, but in Germany you frequently hear that something draws like chewing gum (Es zieht sich wie Kaugummi) – does that count as being food-related, I wonder?
    Great series of posts – I’m always looking forward to them.

  • http://unfiloderbacipollina.blogspot.com Elvira

    En Italie on n’a pas quelch chose de similaire, alors que nous aimons bien le pain, comme la pate!
    TOujours quelque chose à decouvrir dans les edible idioms :)

  • http://dinnersanddreams.blogspot.com Dinners & Dreams

    J’adore lire ton blog. Il m’inspire énormément!

  • http://52martinis.blogspot.com/ Forest

    Me too, I’ll confirm the ‘month of Sundays’ for American use. But, yes, it seems to have fallen out of fashion. (but, being reminded of it, I kind of like it and might just try and bring it back!) :)

    Also, agree that “donkey’s years” more applies to when you haven’t seen someone in a long time. Also, like the southern expression “I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age” But, that one has pretty much fallen out of favor because peoples’ belief that it doesn’t sound very PC.

  • Liz – aka Nutty Gnome

    We still use ‘a month of Sundays’ up here in t’North – and ‘donkeys years’ and ‘once in a blue moon’….. a blue moon being the rareity of having two full moons in the same calendar month!:)

  • Ursula

    I also grew up hearing that something was long & dreary like “a month of Sundays.” The other one that I find amusing is the expression, “I/we spent a year there one day”, meaning that the day felt like a year (drawn-out, boring). I don’t know where that comes from!

  • http://pippapatchwork.com Pippa

    I haven’t heard of the expression “A month of Sundays” but I LOVE this French idiom, thank you! I au paired for a wonderful French family one summer and remember waking up to fresh bread from the nearby bakery every single morning so this epression doesn’t surprise me in the least. Reading your blog is such a great way to keep up with my French–and discover fabulous recipes while doing so!

  • http://www.inolongerlikechocolates.com Kathie

    I’ve also heard the expression, “When the minutes hang like hours…” to describe the perceived slowness of a period of time.

  • bluemistral

    Yes, as other posters remark the British ‘month of sundays’ refers to rarity not dullness (but the phrase isn’t that rare to my mind). But there is of course ‘boring as a wet weekend’, or ‘like watching paint dry’ which is of course extremely dull indeed. Re your previous post about your older recipes, your poulet de muriel has become one of my staples. Always delicious, like your blog.

  • http://www.inolongerlikechocolates.com Kathie

    bluemistral, your offering of “like watching paint dry” reminded me of the analogous “like watching the grass grow.”

  • Monique

    “Long comme un jour sans pain” doesn’t refer to eating three meals withour bread. It goes back from when poor people would have a thin broth and chunks of bread as a meal. So having no bread for a whole day seemed to last very long.

  • http://www.snapperandthegriffin.blogspot.com Griffin

    Yes, ours in the UK is either like watching paint dry – dull and taking forever!

    Dull as a wet weekend in Rhyll/Scunthorpe is just dull and to be avoided, though. It doesn’t necessarily have time attached to it.

    Long as a day without bread is far better and I shall use that as much as possible in the hope it catches on here!

  • http://mtolivier.blogspot.com michelle

    Edible idioms! Brilliant! I love learning new French phrases…

  • http://www.inolongerlikechocolates.com Kathie

    Here’s a famous kitchen clean-up simile: “Dull as dishwater” (refers to degree of boringness, not length of tedium, however).

  • http://onepot.wordpress.com Onepot

    I think I would have really impressed my Provencal landlady had I known this one a month ago. Also: an idiom that makes total sense! A day without bread sounds dreadful indeed.

  • http://noshbygosh.blogspot.com/ dave reeder

    until the mid 1960s, britain was still toiling under a mix of religious conformity and the tail end of wartime rationing. on a sunday, virtually nothing was available for people to do – a newspaper shop for an hour or two, church and so on.

    consequently, a sunday was a day of tedium. hence the expression for a seemingly-endless period, a month of sundays.

  • RG

    I hear “a month of Sundays” very specifically in the phrase “I haven’t see you…” or “it’s been…” and I infer it’s been too long. It’s interesting to note that it implies a dreary time, I didn’t realize that since i think of sunday as a day of rest.

  • Lori Penland

    I’m in the southern United States, and I’ve heard “a month of Sundays” used to express a very long time, not neccessarily something rare or dull. My parents frequently threatened to ground me for a month of Sundays.

  • Sasa

    I’m afraid I can’t add anything new to the idioms convo but I just wanted to say I found your cute blog a few weeks ago and imagine my surprise when I went to Paris for a weekend to meet my mum who was over from NZ (I live in Austria at the moment)and found a copy of your book in the apartment they were renting. Wonders (or should I say coincidences) will never cease.

  • Isabelle

    Suggestion:

    donner de la confiture aux cochons

    variation: donner du caviar aux cochons

    it’s right to the point and has always made me laugh

  • Sam F

    Isabelle’s suggested idiom has an English equivalent: “pearls before swine.”

    (Not that this has anything to do with the current idiom.)

  • Andrew

    I think the English is “Never in a month of Sundays” but the sense is different. Where I come from “Once every Preston Guild” or “Once in a Blue Moon” mean very infrequently but the sense of this is more like “As long as a wet weekend” or “As long as a week on nights”…

    Funny how these posts always teach me more about English than they do about French.

  • http://www.mycarolinakitchen.blogspot.com My Carolina Kitchen

    “Like a month of Sundays,” or like one reader said and the one I’m most familiar with, is “never in a month of Sundays”, is a US Southern term and would probably fit. Interesting to compare cultures and sayings.
    Sam

  • http://www.tasteofbeirut.com Joumana Accad

    Je collectionne les expressions en arabe et j’adore lire des articles sur ça!

  • http://theredmangetout.blogspot.com/ Jenny

    I’d agree with other posters that “a month of Sundays” is to do with rarity or infrequency rather than tedium (although Sundays in Britain were rather dull until about a decade ago).

    I think watching paint dry is the closest English idiom.

  • Drusilla

    One equivalent saying very common in Canada is “slower than molasses in January.” I don’t know if that’s used elsewhere, though…

  • http://elisson1.blogspot.com/ Elisson

    @Drusilla We use the “slower than molasses in January” idiom in the Southern U.S.

    As for “long comme un jour sans pain,” that expression really denotes tedium, not duration… so the “month of Sundays” expression in English doesn’t work (as in “I haven’t seen her in a month of Sundays…”). “Like a day without sunshine” might be closer to the mark.

    How ’bout: “délicieux comme un répas avec Clotilde”? That works for me.

  • marketmaster

    When I made French bread for an exchange French student, his response was, “This bread is life to me.” He meant to use the English idiom, “I live for this bread,” but I still cherish his actual words.

  • Bonnie

    I grew up hearing “a month of Sundays” all the time. I believe it may be used quite frequently in the American South.

  • http://cakeandfinewine.wordpress.com Claire

    The OED defined the idiom ‘a month of Sundays’ thus:

    “a month (also week) of Sundays: an indefinitely prolonged or seemingly endless period of time; a very long time. Chiefly in negative contexts, as never (also not) in a month of Sundays: never.”

  • andrea

    A month of Sundays would be a long time because it would take 30 Sundays to make a month and since Sunday only comes once a week it would take 30 weeks to make “a month of Sundays”.

  • Caro

    In Cajun-French speaking Louisiana, we have the expression “Lache pas la patate” (don’t drop the potato) – which basically means “hang in there; don’t give up.” I’ve really enjoyed learning the other idioms posted here! Language can be so fun.

  • Caro

    Regarding Drusilla’s “slower than molasses in January”, you may be interested to know that Scarlett O’Hara uses it in the movie “Gone with the Wind” (and perhaps the book as well) – that’s how I came to know about it!

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