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The meaning and origin of the expression: Pie in the sky

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Pie in the sky

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Meaning

A promise of heaven, while continuing to suffer in this life.

Origin

pie in the skyThis is an American phrase and was coined by Joe Hill in 1911. Hill was a Swedish-born itinerant labourer who migrated to the USA in 1902. He was a leading light of the radical labour organisation The Industrial Workers of the World - known as the Wobblies, writing many radical songs for them. The phrase appeared first in Hill's The Preacher and the Slave, which parodied the Salvation Army hymn In the Sweet Bye and Bye. The song, which criticized the Army's theology and philosophy, specifically their concentration on the salvation of souls rather than the feeding of the hungry, was popular when first recorded and remained so for some years.

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right;
But when asked how 'bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

Chorus:
You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

The starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray
'Till they get all your coin on the drum
Then they'll tell you when you're on the bum:

Holy Rollers and jumpers come out,
They holler, they jump and they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all diseases today.
If you fight hard for children and wife
Try to get something good in this life
You're a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

Workingmen of all countries, unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight;
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we'll sing this refrain:

You will eat, bye and bye,
When you've learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood, 'twill do you good,
And you'll eat in the sweet bye and bye.

The phrase wasn't taken up until the Second World War, when it began to be used figuratively to refer to any prospect of future happiness which was unlikely ever to be realized; for example, this report from the California newspaper The Fresno Bee, November 1939:

"The business world is fearful that Roosevelt's obsession with war problems will mean a continued neglect of questions which still restrict trade and profits. They are highly skeptical of Washington's promise that they will 'eat pie in the sky' solely from war orders, which they decry publicly.

See also: jam tomorrow.

See other phrases that were coined in the USA.