Bun in the Oven – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Idioms are words and phrases with a figurative use outside their literal meanings. Many of them are derived from literary sayings that take on alternate meanings over a few hundred years of use. But some are more recent in their use and don’t have a strong literal origin.

The phrase bun in the oven is a great example of this. Even though part of the idiom has been used as a metaphor since at least the 17th century, the entirety of the phrase is attributed to a novel published in the mid-20th century.

Let’s learn about the origins, use, and meaning of bun in the oven below.

What Is the Meaning of a Bun in the Oven?

Bun in the Oven Idiom Origin Meaning

To have a bun in the oven is a euphemism for being pregnant or a way to explain that someone is expecting a child.

The use of the word pregnancy, or to point out a woman’s impending childbirth in public, was often considered impolite. Because of this, many different metaphors were used to hint at the pregnancy without saying it.

For example:

  • We had no idea she had a bun in the oven until she announced her departure for maternity leave. We couldn’t have been happier for her, but it sure was a surprise!
  • He was overjoyed when she told him they were expecting, and that night, he announced to the entire theater that his wife had a bun in the oven.
  • The preschooler told his teacher his mom was always tired because she had a bun in the oven that would be his new baby sister when it was done cooking.

What Is the Origin of Bun in the Oven?

Bun in the Oven Ngram
Bun in the oven usage trend.

A woman’s womb has been referred to metaphorically as an oven since the ancient Greeks. A variation of the connection was mentioned in the myth of Pandora, and Aristotle even likens the womb to an oven in his writings.

This connection was likely made to connect the womb with a warm, protective place where something grows.

The connection of the unborn infant with a bun didn’t occur until 1951 in the novel “The Cruel Sea” by Nicholas Monsarrat. The idiom is used multiple times to infer a possible pregnancy, as well as in a teasing manner, to explain a person’s general feeling of being unwell—similar to a woman’s morning sickness in early pregnancy.

  • “‘I bet you left a bun in the oven, both of you.’ Then suddenly he turned a grey-green color and lurched out of the room. They heard him stumbling up the ladder, and the clang of the lavatory door behind him.”
  • “‘Perhaps you have a bun in the oven,’ said Morell suavely. He raised his eyebrows as he saw Lockhart struggling with laughter.”

Let’s Review

The womb has long been compared to an oven as a way to explain a warm and protective place metaphorically. In the 20th century, an unborn baby was likened to a bun in the oven, warming and growing until ready.

Throughout history, pointing out a woman’s pregnancy has been considered inappropriate. So many different phrases have come about to explain impending childbirth without coming straight out and saying it.

A bun in the oven is used to infer a pregnancy and became popular after it was put in print in the 1950s.