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This new sliced bread is the greatest thing since Smeckler's Powder. Maybe even better!
November 19, 2007 1:33 PM   Subscribe

What was the greatest thing before sliced bread came along?

Everyone always says x is the greatest thing since sliced bread. What was the technological/societal greatest thing before sliced bread took the crown?
posted by yellowbinder to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fire? The wheel? Loincloths?
posted by Koko at 1:35 PM on November 19, 2007


Regular bread.
posted by bokane at 1:37 PM on November 19, 2007


indoor plumbing
posted by phil at 1:41 PM on November 19, 2007


I'm going with the wheel.
posted by josher71 at 1:43 PM on November 19, 2007


mitochondria
posted by luriete at 1:53 PM on November 19, 2007


Well, Wikipedia says sliced bread was first commercially available in 1928. So while things like locomotives and penicillin pre-date that, if you want something comparable to sliced bread, I'd say that iceboxes were a pretty widely distributed, happily embraced domestic convenience.

"Sliced bread: the greatest thing since the icebox!"
posted by DarlingBri at 1:53 PM on November 19, 2007


Sliced bread was introduced commercially in 1928.

So I'd say the motorcar.

On preview: Damn you DarlingBri! I still say cars.
posted by contraption at 1:55 PM on November 19, 2007


Chocolate. Or coffee.
posted by OlderThanTOS at 2:02 PM on November 19, 2007


Obviously, "sliced bread" was a relatively minor cultural innovation. It was around when I was a kid in the 50s in Europe -- you went to the bakery for your bread, and you could take it home either sliced by their nifty machine, or unsliced. Best of all, there was no extra charge.

But in any event, it's a tongue-in-cheek saying, since obviously there have been a good many other technical achievements before and after the slicing machine that improved quality of life.

So the question is really, what parallel, relatively minor cultural innovation achievement could have been used instead of sliced bread, before bakers started slicing bread. In addition, the saying needs a humourous ring.

I would say, "the greatest thing since the two-hole outhouse."
posted by beagle at 2:07 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Are you asking what MeFites think the actual greatest thing before sliced bread was? Or are you asking what invention served the rhetorical purpose that "sliced bread" does today, before there was sliced bread?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:08 PM on November 19, 2007


Are you asking what MeFites think the actual greatest thing before sliced bread was? Or are you asking what invention served the rhetorical purpose that "sliced bread" does today, before there was sliced bread?

I think it's pretty clear it's the latter. It better be, anyway, because the former would be classic chatfilter. At any rate, I vote for the stem-winding (keyless) watch, or stemwinder. Americans were so impressed with this new convenience after the Civil War that (as World Wide Words says) "by the end of the nineteenth century the term stem-winder had taken on a figurative meaning of something first-rate or excellent." ("As a further extension it meant something powerful or persuasive, and became attached in particular to somebody who was an effective public speaker or impassioned talker. Later still it was used of the speech itself, if it were entertaining and tub-thumping oratory.")
posted by languagehat at 2:19 PM on November 19, 2007 [7 favorites]


[lots of comments removed - you all know where metatalk is, right?
posted by jessamyn at 2:20 PM on November 19, 2007


Running water.
posted by notyou at 2:20 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Beer. Civilization was founded on beer.
posted by pixelbaby at 2:28 PM on November 19, 2007


I'm not sure that means that sliced bread was the greatest invention. It could instead mean that there were greater things before that, but this is the greatest invention since 1928. If that's the case, this could be correctly applied to multiple things.

Things and How Great They Were Particularly Vis a Vis Sliced Bread
Thing          Greatness    When   GTSSB?------------------------------------------Wheel              100     6000 BC   NoCheese            1000     5000 BC   NoCar                120     1879 AD   NoAirplane           170     1905 AD   NoSliced Bread        50     1928 AD   UndefinedEasy Cheese         75     1966 AD   YesApollo Moon Lander 300     1969 AD   YesMicroprocessor     150     1972 AD   NoRoland TB-303      250     1982 AD   NoMetafilter         175     1999 AD   NoNintendo Wii       600     2006 AD   Yes

posted by aubilenon at 2:34 PM on November 19, 2007 [16 favorites]


I asked my grandmother, who said that when sliced bread came out (she was 15) her own mother said "What would they do that for?" Because sliced bread was something so far away from the convenience of going to the local bakery.

She suggests that many hours of backbreaking labor was saved with the invention of the steel wool (Brillo) pad for pot and pan cleaning and that was the best thing before sliced bread.
posted by parmanparman at 2:39 PM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


Damn you DarlingBri! I still say cars.

You and your newfangled elitist contraptions!

But seriously, sliced bread was immediately available to people of all classes. Hell, today I pay more for unsliced bread than sliced because unsliced is now all retro posh or some such shite.

Cars were not available to working class or lower class people, and for many, are still not. Iceboxes, however, were attainable by virtually all households and quickly became ubiquitous.

On preview: Parmanparman's granny has a point. But Brillo pads are a labor saving device, whereas sliced bread is a convenience food, and there is a difference between the two, so... hmm. We require a domestic scientist. IANADS.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:56 PM on November 19, 2007


Flat bread. No slicing required!
posted by Reggie Digest at 3:03 PM on November 19, 2007


Horse drawn moldboard plow, you could not have much bread or beer without it.
posted by Iron Rat at 3:17 PM on November 19, 2007


The Fork.
posted by The World Famous at 4:05 PM on November 19, 2007


Ishi said he thought the best invention was matches.
posted by anadem at 4:58 PM on November 19, 2007


I'd say the wheel. Using sliced bread as a catchphrase for greatness is reinventing the wheel.
posted by ersatz at 5:17 PM on November 19, 2007


It could instead mean that there were greater things before that, but this is the greatest invention since 1928.

Well, no. As long as I can remember, it's intended (at least mildly) sarcastically, along the lines of a legend in his own mind.

Interestingly, the phrase isn't widely prevalent prior to 1965, according to Google Books (and ignoring the periodicals problem). That was the year that Don Robertson's juvenile fiction cult favorite by the title came out. These guys couldn't find a use prior to 1969 (obviously they didn't check the Library of Congress). Wikipedia cites the phrase's origin as being from a Wonder Bread ad campaign, but you wonder what that actually was. "Sliced bread... the greatest thing since sliced bread!" It seems unlikely to have been the origin of a phrase that wasn't popular until the 1960s, though.

beagle is probably onto the real meaning here. Whatever it would have been, it would have been utterly mundane. And I certainly don't think that sliced bread has taken the crown from fire or the wheel.
posted by dhartung at 5:19 PM on November 19, 2007


Oh please...

Moon lander greater than the 303? You're having a lend.
posted by pompomtom at 7:43 PM on November 19, 2007


The bee's knees predates sliced bread by a few years, so that's it.
posted by dhammond at 8:18 PM on November 19, 2007


Guesses are pointless; sitting around trading guesses is great in a freshman bull session (do they still have those?), but not at AskMe. Someone somewhere has done research on this, and they would be worth listening to; you and me, not so much. Really, language and its history are much more complicated and interesting and unpredictable than most people imagine.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:01 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


When did sliced meat come around?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:28 PM on November 19, 2007


I recently re-stumbled upon Sliced Bread 2, the greatest thing since sliced bread. And its actually a very enjoyable read. (start at the beginning)
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:26 AM on November 20, 2007


I first heard the statement "greatest thing since sliced bread" in the movie "Annie," when Warbucks and Annie are swimming in the pool. So maybe the widespread use of the statement in recent times comes from that bit of dialogue. *shrugs*
posted by cass at 10:26 AM on November 20, 2007


When I was in grade school, I had a teacher who must have been about a hundred years old. She used to say "[whatever] is the greatest thing since the graphite pencil".
posted by jknecht at 8:38 PM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


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