Pandemic pun

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Of the hundreds of pandemic memes that come to me, this is one that I didn't fully understand when I first received it:

Here's the explanation (from Elizabeth Dreyer):

"pain de mie" is sliced bread as in sandwich bread, meaning most of the bread is "mie", the soft interior, as opposed to a baguette where there is a higher proportion of crust.   "pandémie" is pandemic in French.  voilà

Selected readings


  1. Christel Davies said,

    June 11, 2020 @ 4:04 am

    That’s a whole lot nicer than my first thought. First thing that came to mind was “inbred”.

  2. Anthony said,

    June 11, 2020 @ 6:16 am

    Bakers call the soft interior the crumb. (There's a good book on baking called "Crust and Crumb.") And in French, "mie" is crumb.

  3. Keith said,

    June 11, 2020 @ 8:53 am

    Not bad.

    At first I thought it was a reference to an urban legend that some people in the UK would filter agricultural diesel through sliced white bread to remove the red dye (that identifies it as subject to a much lower rate of fuel duty).

    "Pain de mie" for "pandémie" is a bit of a stretch, though; "pain de mie" is /pɛ̃.də.mi/ while "pandémie" is /pɑ̃.de.mi/, so two out of the three vowels are different.

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    June 11, 2020 @ 9:14 am

    OT, but related — what is the canonical syllable delimiter in the IPA ? Keith (above) uses a period, the LPD uses a space, my personal preference is for the centered period "·" — is there an established standard ?

  5. Keith Patterson said,

    June 11, 2020 @ 11:22 am

    It's funnier if you're Glaswegian – that looks distinctly like a slice of "pan" bread (as opposed to "plain")

  6. RachelP said,

    June 12, 2020 @ 8:00 am

    Sort of. 'Breadcrumbs' are 'panure', or 'chapelure', as in the crumbs you'd use to make a coating for something fried. Take the crust off a piece of sliced bread and you are left with 'mie' but not crumbs.

    Perhaps you are referring to a specialist use by bakers which is fair enough, but perhaps not clear to most of us. I think calling it 'the soft interior' of the bread made it clear.

  7. Bloix said,

    June 12, 2020 @ 8:13 am

    Decades ago, my mother would call bagged sliced white bread like this "flannel bread" – which, it turns out, was not unique to her and is still in use,

    And my wife and I are wearing masks that she sewed out of old pajamas.

    So my reaction to this pic was, OMG! A flannel [bread] mask!

  8. maidhc said,

    June 12, 2020 @ 7:13 pm

    Funny that banh mi is made with a baguette though.

    I heard a similar story to Keith. That during Prohibition people would filter shoe polish through bread to get an alcoholic beverage.

  9. Ted McClure said,

    June 13, 2020 @ 12:30 pm

    My father told me that when he was in the US Navy during WWII they would take one of the six-foot long loaves of bread, cut off the ends, and pour aircraft engine transmission fluid through the loaf. What came out the bottom was 99+% ethanol. Cut it with some canned pineapple juice and, wow.

  10. Christian Weisgerber said,

    June 13, 2020 @ 6:54 pm

    @Philip Taylor

    what is the canonical syllable delimiter in the IPA ?

    According to the Wikipedia article about the IPA, it's the period.

  11. Sawney said,

    June 14, 2020 @ 4:16 am

    Like Keith P, when I first saw the picture, I saw a slice of pan bread. Anyone who’s familiar with the rhyming slang of the West of Scotland will know that ‘pan bread’ (pronounced ‘pan breid’) means ‘dead (as in “The dug’s no movin, da” – “That’s cos it’s pan breid, son”). And using a slice of the staff of life as a barrier against the virus definitely ups the odds that you'll be pan bread sooner rather than later.

  12. Vulcan With a Mullet said,

    June 14, 2020 @ 5:56 pm

    I just thought "beard/bread". lol

  13. Elizebeth Harris said,

    June 15, 2020 @ 6:05 am

    I thought it's something to stop eating a lot
    like that's your last peace of bread for today … sort of

  14. Andrew Usher said,

    June 15, 2020 @ 6:25 am

    'Folk phonetics' strikes again – the comment above about some Scots pronouncing 'bread' as 'breid' means absolutely nothing to non-Scots, and is probably not useful in Scotland, either, as you've either heard the pronunciation is question (and need no guide) or you haven't. I assume either FACE or FLEECE is intended, but god only knows which.

    I think I have enough chemical knowledge to assert that obtaining pure alcohol from a mixture through such crude means is quite impossible. Those stories likely belong in the 'urban legend' category. On the other hand filtering the red dye out of diesel is much more plausible.

    k_over_hbarc at

  15. Keith said,

    June 15, 2020 @ 7:39 am

    @RachelP, @Anthony

    Yes, "crumb" is a word of art used by bakers and bread-eaters to
    describe what is below the crust, but I don't think that it's an
    uncommon word at least in the UK (notwithstanding the absence of an
    article on the subject in Wikipedia, and despite there being,
    interestingly, an article for the German cognate "Krume"). In this
    sense, it corresponds to the the French term "mie".

    The word for a crumb that falls is a "miette", and this word is used
    for a tiny piece of just about anything.

  16. Philip Taylor said,

    June 15, 2020 @ 8:41 am

    /briːd/, laddie, /briːd/ ! ('though some Scots may have a different /r/). See for "breid" in context, where you'll see it's not "folk phonetics" at all but the real Lallans language.

  17. Alexander Browne said,

    June 15, 2020 @ 2:49 pm

    AKA Scots,

  18. Andrew Usher said,

    June 15, 2020 @ 6:41 pm

    Yes, OK, that does answer my question. The spelling 'breid' was not the subject of my criticism, but the 'explanation' that 'bread' is pronounced 'breid' (not the normal way to show that vowel in English), which is an example of the unhelpful stuff heard from those that don't know the IPA and don't think about phonetics on that level; and that's what I label 'folk phonetics'.

    Scots certainly have the right (when using Scots) to spell the word bread in whatever manner; that is not at issue!

  19. Philip Taylor said,

    June 16, 2020 @ 4:53 am

    "Folk phonetics" (or faux phonetics, which is initially what I thought Andrew meant) can certainly be a source of confusion (see discussions on "chree" not too far from here) but equally confusing can be the assumption by some contributors that we all live in the same place (where "place" < "planet earth"). More than once I have read words to the effect that "they say that differently in the South", and I have absolutely no idea to which "South" the contributor is referring. Indeed, I asked this very question at some point quite recently.

    However, and returning to the realm of phonetics and phonology, whilst I fully understand and appreciate that (a) not all contributors are equally familiar with the IPA, and (b) that even those that are may nonetheless not find composing ("typing") in the IPA particularly easy, and that both groups are therefore liable to fall back on faux phonetics for good reason, there is another context in which a large number of contributors use a form of description which I personally find somehow worrying, and that is when a contributors asks (for example) "did he say 'shall' or 'shell' ?". My question here is, is it possible for a speaker to say "shall" (or "shell") or does the speaker in reality say /ʃæl/ or /ʃel/ ?. In other words, while I fully accept that we all think words, and that we all hear words, do we actually say words, or do we merely produce a series of sounds that are better described by their phonology, and which each listener must therefore interpret to the best of their ability ? Is it ever possible to state with 100% certainty that a speaker said "X" (where "X" is a word or words from an implied language), or must we instead describe what he or she said in phonological terms ? This is more philosophy than linguistics, of course, but it is a question that frequently worries me.

  20. Philip Taylor said,

    June 16, 2020 @ 8:33 am

    Para.~2 should, of course, have started "However, and returning to the realms of linguistics and phonology, …".

  21. Sawney said,

    June 16, 2020 @ 11:28 am

    Yes, I now realise I should have written something along the lines of “often pronounced as /pan ˈ'bri:d/ in the West of Scotland (the Scots word for ‘bread’ is ‘breid’) ”. In my defence, though, I was in a wee bit of a hurry as I had to rush out and buy a copy of April McMahon’s ‘Introduction to English Phonology’ (it’s about the same size as a slice of pan bread, but makes for a much more effective mask).

  22. Sawney said,

    June 16, 2020 @ 11:34 am

    Oops. I seem to have added an extra stress mark before bri:d.

  23. Andrew Usher said,

    June 16, 2020 @ 7:19 pm

    Explanation accepted; it could very well have just been a mistake. Your stress mark was actually meaningful (though duplicated) because such a compound could certainly be pronounced PAN bread, and I think Americans probably would if we used it.

    However I have to add that a book will certainly not make a useful mask – you can't breathe through anything I'd consider a book!

    Philip Taylor:
    I'd never use the words 'faux phonetics'; these are all genuine attempts, even if confused. I don't believe I'm guilty of the type of ambiguity you mention with 'the South', and I think context should usually clarify such cases anyway.

    I do not insist anyone use the IPA (given that I don't always) or that it has unique value; I meant that useful phonetic descriptions are going to be (at least) functionally equivalent to the usual IPA transcriptions, and in fact sometimes better.

    Your shall/shell question actually deserves another post. I can think of four possible meanings and without context couldn't say which is the best interpretation. I can't see a good reason to deny that people can say a word, though: if one means to utter it and does so in a form acceptable by one's own rules, it is said. But that is a philosophical question and has no correct answer.

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    June 17, 2020 @ 8:06 am

    Yes, I very much hope that one of the leading protagonists here will write something on the subject, because I have in mind the sort of legal questioning in which a witness is asked "And what did the defendant say in reply ?", to which the witness will usually respond with a word, words, or anything up to several sentences. Leaving aside for now the catch-22 situation of "did the witness actually say those words, or did he/she just make a sequence of sounds that are best expressed phonologically", the real question is "Can one speaker ever report what another speaker said, or can they only report what they heard ?". And this seems to me such an important question that the outcome of criminal cases could possibly depend on the answer.

  25. Andrew Usher said,

    June 17, 2020 @ 9:25 pm

    I can't see that as more than a quibble, a meaningless semantic distinction. But I can see how some might find it interesting, and a posting about it would not be unwelcome.

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