On Having One’s Cake & Eating It

My kids and I were joking the other day about this common saying.  A day later, someone used it with reference to something I had written.

I find this idiomatic proverb so totally frustrating and backward.  In common usage, to have one’s cake and to want to eat it is regarded as a bad thing.  We say something like this: “Edward ascribes to this position, wanting to have his cake and eat it, too.”

Readers or hearers of such a statement chuckle with derision at poor Edward.  He is, after all, a fool for wanting to go beyond mere possession of cake to actually eating it.

In my experience, however, possession of cake is good for only one thing.  I have not yet been to a birthday party where someone has handed out cake, whereupon all recipients of cake slices did then dispose of the cake without eating it.

Isn’t eating the cake the only thing that possession of cake is good for?  Why else would anyone be happy to merely have cake?

I have not yet met the person who stands forkless with a piece of cake smiling with delight, content with mere cake-possession.

In fact, we should say something like this: “Edward ascribes to this position, wanting to have his cake and eat it, too.”  Readers and hearers of this should regard Edward as utterly rational.  He wins the day!  Further, they should regard as a fool anyone who disagrees with Edward, since they deem the possession of cake as good in itself.

Just to say that I hope I will always count myself among those who want to have cake and eat it, too.  If I don’t want to eat the cake, I will simply refuse its possession, as I did at my nephew’s birthday party at which I had eaten too much pulled pork.

Why do we not regard the person as mad who delights in possessing cake without going beyond to eating?


7 responses to “On Having One’s Cake & Eating It

  • John Mortensen

    I have always admired this alternative phrasing, which dispenses with ambiguity and makes the problem of mutual exclusivity clear:

    “Edward desires to eat his cake and have it.”

    And this regional variant:

    “Edward desires to eat his cake and have it. Let us beat him to a jelly.”

  • Michael DeFazio

    I think the phrase means that Edward wants to eat his cake and also *keep* it intact as it is before being eaten. He wants the joy of looking at an uneaten cake all pretty and iced, as well as the joy of consuming it. But he can’t have both. 🙂

    In other news, I was highly encouraged by your work in *Drama of Ephesians*! It has always been my favorite epistle but has never before come so alive (and this after Bible College and Fuller!). I was able to encourage some youth workers this past week with a brief overview of Paul’s argument for Christ’s victory in the midst of ministry hardship, which I couldn’t have done as well without you. So thanks from me and them!

  • jasonhammer

    Michael’s right. So says the Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Have_your_cake_and_eat_it_too

    The earliest recorded phrase is from 1546, “wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?”

  • athanasius96

    According to Wikipedia, “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.””

  • Gabe

    Check out Ben Bailey – a comedian – who waxes this point…

  • Madeline Gombis

    Edward clearly doesn’t know that duplicator rays aren’t legal yet.

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