Have one's cake and eat it too

To wish to have one's cake and eat it too or simply have one's cake and eat it (sometimes eat one's cake and have it too) is to want more than one can handle or deserve, or to try to have two incompatible things. This is a popular English idiomatic proverb, or figure of speech.


The phrase's earliest recording is from 1546 as "wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?" (John Heywood's 'A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue')OED|cake] alluding to the impossibility of eating your cake and still having it afterwards; the modern version (where the clauses are reversed) is a corruption which was first signaled in 1812.

Paul Brians, Professor of English at Washington State University, points out that perhaps a more logical or easier to understand version of this saying is: “You can’t eat your cake and have it too”. Professor Brians writes that a common source of confusion about this idiom stems from the verb "to have" which in this case indicates that once eaten possession of the cake is no longer possible. [ cite web
url = http://wsu.edu/~brians/errors/eatcake.html
title = Common Errors in English: Eat Cake
publisher = Washington State University
accessdate = 2008-03-26
] Alternatively, the two verbs can be understood to represent a sequence of actions, so one can indeed "have" one's cake and then "eat" it. Consequently, the literal meaning of the reversed idiom doesn't match the metaphorical meaning.

References in Pop Culture

*Comedian George Carlin once critiqued this idiom by saying, "When people say, 'Oh you just want to have your cake and eat it too.' What good is a cake you can't eat? What should I eat, someone else's cake instead?".Fact|date=July 2008
*"Have Your Cake and Eat It Too" is a book by Susan G. Purdy.
*Bob Dylan changed the phrase in his song "Lay Lady Lay" in the line: "You can have your cake and eat it, too."
*The phrase is also alluded to in "Everybody Loves You Now" by Billy Joel; a song by the Jersey Boys; "Catch" by Kosheen (as "have your cake / and eat it"); and in "Life O'Riley" by NOFX.
*The live version of Eve 6's Inside Out featured the phrase.
*In his novel Flaubert's Parrot (1984), Julian Barnes writes: "You can have your cake and eat it too - the only trouble is, you get fat."

Unabomber Reversal

The reversal of this expression helped in the identification of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. In the Unabomber's "Manifesto", it was written, "...you can't eat your cake and have it too. To gain one thing you have to sacrifice another." His brother David Kaczynski was able to identify Ted after reading the "Manifesto". Ted and their mother both used the more accurate but older and less popular use of the phrase. [ http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DE2D81E39F931A35755C0A960958260 New York Times]


External links

* [http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/26/messages/1075.html Post at "The Phrase Finder"] , quoting "Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New" and "The Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings".

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