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Imagine you have a piece of loaf of bread or a pita bread, and you have a bowl of thick lumpy soup. You don't have a spoon, so you hold the bread in one hand, and you pinch the bread with your thumb and index fingers from the other hand to cut a small piece that is as big as a spoonful, or a bite-sized piece. You take that piece and dip it in the soup and then you eat it.

The questions are:

1- What do you call the process or action of taking from the bread with your thumb and index fingers?

2- What do you call that pinch of bread that is more or less as big as a spoonful?

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    In Italian it's called la scarpetta / the small shoe!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 22:24
  • Scusate, io non parlo italiano. I tried once to learn Italian during the prehistoric ages when we didn't have the tools of civilization i.e computers and esp. Internet. I wonder why there is shoe!
    – learner
    Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 22:43

3 Answers 3

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Here are my answers, though the second one may not be as satisfying as you'd like:

  1. I always say that I tear off a piece of bread. I don't say cut because I'm not using a sharp tool (such as a knife or scissors).

  2. I call it a small piece of bread.

I'm afraid I can't come up with any better term than that.

I have to say, though, I love the Italian term Mari-Lou A gave in her comment, la scarpetta. I might just start saying that in English, even though I'm sure few people will understand me without explanation :-)

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  • When I first read "tear off a piece..." I thought of ripping it. I did a quick Google search and it turns out that there is. Can I use rip the bread too (with and without off)? Here's a quote "Rip French Bread, Don’t Slice It Religious, superstitious, or cultural, the French simply don’t slice their baguettes. The polite way to eat bread at a table or restaurant is to rip it with your fingers."
    – learner
    Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 23:34
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    @learner I like tear personally, but rip sounds okay. You can rip or tear bread, or you can rip off or tear off a piece of bread.
    – user230
    Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 23:36
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    @snailplane But if you "rip off" the entire loaf you may be arrested for theft. Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 0:39
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    The old term for the bread piece, though I haven't heard it in donkey's years, is "sop": [Jesus said] Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. [...] He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. -John 13,21-22,25-27 Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 0:49
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    @StoneyB: But if the loaf of bread is a rip off, you might not have any other choice, because you might not be able to afford it!
    – Matt
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 9:42
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Going out on a limb here but I don't think there is an English equivalent of the Italian, scarpetta, which translated in English is little shoe. One theory behind the origin of the word is that the piece of bread used to mop up the sauce acts like a shoe by scraping or sliding across the plate.

I really can't think of anything which comes close. Italians love their bread, and their pasta and will happily eat the two side by side. The British less so, in the past they would tend to butter their slices of bread or small rolls and eat them before the arrival of the main course. This was always something that struck me odd whenever I went to British restaurants. Now of course, garlic bread seems to be ubiquitous, and I'm sure Americans and British love to soak up sauces.

I'm digressing, back to to the OP question. I would use a verb to describe the action of absorbing sauce, meat juices, or indeed soup with pieces of bread.

mop

clean or soak up (something) by wiping

He was mopping his plate with a piece of bread

dip

Put or let something down quickly or briefly in or into (liquid)

soak

Make or allow (something) to become thoroughly wet by immersing it in liquid

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  • out on a limb having an opinion which is different from most people's and is unpopular She's going out on a limb in criticizing her own party leadership. (from Cambridge's)
    – learner
    Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 23:51
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1: I'd have to agree with @snailplane that the most likely name for the action is to rip off or tear off a piece of bread. However, you could also pull off, if the bread is soft and doesn't require a lot of effort to separate a piece; or break off, which can be used in general but might lead people to think the bread was very hard, or twist off if you actually do twist the bread in order to separate it.

2: You could call it a bite of bread if you would pop it into your mouth whole, or a chunk of bread (you could even qualify it as a small or large chunk), but I wouldn't go as far as calling it a hunk.

In my estimation, a hunk would be a full serving (a piece big enough that you could not possibly fit it into your mouth all at once), a chunk would be more than a comfortable mouthful (probably 2-3 normal bites' worth of bread, but people being what they are, you might still stuff a whole chunk into your mouth all at once), and a bite would be something that you could have bitten off and chewed comfortably. (All of these are approximate and are subject to regional variation, of course.)

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