The Grammarphobia Blog

A bun in the oven

Q: I heard you say on the radio that you had a bun in the oven. Good luck with your pregnancy! And what is the origin of the phrase “a bun in the oven”?

A: Oops! My face is red. Sorry for the confusion, but the “bun” in question is a children’s grammar book, not a child. Woe Is I Jr. will be out in May. But thank you for the congratulations anyway.

As for the origin of “bun in the oven,” the earliest published references date back only to the mid-20th century. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first citation comes from The Cruel Sea, a 1951 novel by Nicholas Monsarrat.

But the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang notes that the word “oven” has been used to mean “vagina” or “womb” since the end of the 17th century. And the late scholar Beryl Rowland has described the expression as “a colloquial use of an ancient folk metaphor” with roots in classical times. In an article in the journal American Speech, she wrote:

“The ancient gods such as Zeus were conceived as millers and their consorts as mills; the human race was the product they ground and baked, and on a terrestrial scale, man and woman performed similar functions.”

PS: I guess confusion is the price one occasionally pays for using figurative speech. Go figure.