know which side one’s bread is buttered

know which side one’s bread is buttered,
also, aware of which side his bread is buttered on

Meaning

  • to be cognizant of where one’s interests lie in a given situation.
  • to understand the current state of things and how you might profit from it.
  • the ability to ascertain what choice would be to your advantage.
  • understanding of how to secure one’s own success

Example Sentences

  1. He tries to come across as a neutral party, but he is very aware of which side his bread is buttered on.
  2. I know which side my bread is buttered on, so I was careful to be as polite as possible to the interviewer.
  3. If he knows which side his bread is buttered on, he won’t make a fuss during the meeting.
  4. She wanted to argue back with her boss, but she knew which side her bread was buttered on.
  5. He knew on which side his bread was buttered, but it didn’t stop him from snapping angrily at the customer.
  6. My mother responded, “Dear, if you know what side your bread is buttered on, you will marry that man!”

Origin

Back in 1546, the idiom first appeared in Proverbs, by John Heywood. This idiom is a metaphor referring to the notion that the buttered side of a piece of bread has more value than the plain side. It often denotes a situation that has an unequal dependency, such as a young trophy wife and her much older, wealthy husband. This metaphorical phrase stems from a time period in which many people were not as independent as they are in current times. Wives relied upon husbands, servants were dependent upon their wealthy employers, laborers and farmers were reliant upon landowners.

These situations often caused frustration and became untenable for the dependent. They would harbor thoughts of breaking the dependency—a wife leaving the marriage or having an affair, an employee resigning their position in a fit of pique. However, due consideration of which side their bread was buttered on, would usually take precedence over the desired state of freedom. Survival was a more compelling argument, and so the status quo would continue to be maintained.

See also: know on which side one’s bread is buttered

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