"Bring home the bacon" is an idiom. And what does 'idiom' mean?
Well, an idiom is a speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements, as in keep tabs on. It also can be understood as a regional speech or dialect, or a specialized vocabulary used by a group of people; jargon: legal idiom.
In Portuguese, we can understand "bring home the bacon" as "trazer o pão para casa", "sustentar a casa", "manter a casa", etc.
To earn money, especially money for one's family; to be successful, especially financially successful.
The origin of the phrase 'bring home the bacon' is sometimes suggested to be the story of the Dunmow Flitch. This tradition, which still continues every four years in Great Dunmow, Essex, is based on the story of a local couple who, in 1104, impressed the Prior of Little Dunmow with their marital devotion to the point that he award them a flitch [a side] of bacon. The continuing ritual of couples showing their devotion and winning the prize, to considerable acclaimation by the local populace, is certainly old and well authenticated. Geoffrey Chaucer mentions it in The Wife of Bath's Tale and Prologue, circa 1395:
But never for us the flitch of bacon though,
That some may win in Essex at Dunmow.
The derivation of the phrase is also muddled by association with other 'bacon' expressions - 'save one's bacon', 'cold shoulder', chew the fat' etc. In reality, the link between them is limited to the fact that bacon has been a slang term for one's body, and by extension one's livelihood or income, since the 17th century. Of course, the source of that 'body' meaning is from bacon coming from the body of a pig or, more accurately, a pig's back and sides.
An additional invented explanation that links 'bringing home the bacon' with the culinary habits of mediaeval English peasantry is given in the nonsense email 'Life in the 1500s'. That, and all the other supposed derivations above, ignores the fact that 'bring home the bacon' is a 20th century phrase that was coined in the USA.
One field of endeavour in which one's body, i.e. bacon, is the key to one's fortune is boxing, and it is in that sport that the expression first became widely used.
Joe Gans and 'Battling' Oliver Nelson fought for the widely reported world lightweight championship on 3rd September 1906. In coverage of the fight, the New York newspaper The Post-Standard, 4th September 1906, reported that:
Before the fight Gans received a telegram from his mother: "Joe, the eyes of the world are on you. Everybody says you ought to win. Peter Jackson will tell me the news and you bring home the bacon."
Gans (on the right in the picture) won the fight, and The New York Times printed a story saying that he had replied by telegraph that he "had not only the bacon, but the gravy", and that he later sent his mother a cheque for $6,000.
A month later, in October 1906, The Oakland Tribune reported another boxing correspondent, Ray Peck, predicting the result of the impending Al Kaufmann/Sam Berger fight in California like this:
Kaufmann will bring home the bacon. [He did]
There are no newspaper records, or any other printed records that I can find, of 'bring home the bacon' dating from before September 1906, but there are many, most of them boxing-related, from soon afterwards. That's not exactly proof that the expression was coined by the good Mrs Gans, but we can say at least that she was the one who brought it into the public arena.
So, according to some dictionaries we have these following definitions:
bring home the bacon
Fig. to earn a salary; to bring home money earned at a job. I've got to get to work if I'm going to bring home the bacon. Go out and get a job so you can bring home the bacon.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idios and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill
bring home the bacon (informal)
1. to earn money to live on If Jo's going to be at home looking after the kids, someone needs to bring home the bacon.
2. to do something successfully, especially to win a game or race Racegoers crowded the stand to see him bring home the bacon. (= win the race)
Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2006. Reproduced with permission.
bring home the bacon
1. to earn money to live on If Jo's going to stay at home with the kids, someone else will have to bring home the bacon.
2. to do something successfully Holtzman pitched poorly, and he was followed by McNamara, who didn't bring home the bacon either.
Usage notes: usually said about playing sports
Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2006. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive
They're five of a growing breed of househusbands who juggle cooking, chores and their egos while their wives bring home the bacon.
They're five of a growing breed of house husbands who juggle cooking, chores and their egos while their wives bring home the bacon.
Throughout time, Shimano has covered to assist all anglers out there by leaving some of the best fishing reels they could find Ever since they opened in 1921, Shimano has staid on to bring home the bacon some of the most functional, regular, and top-notch Shimano Reels clear
See you, guys and gals!
Teacher Jô Piantavinha