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

Pie in the sky

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Pie in the sky'?

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

What's the origin of the phrase 'Pie in the sky'?

This 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 'Pie in the sky' - meaning and origin.
The US labourer and writer Joe Hill coined
the expression 'Pie in the sky'.

The phrase appeared first in Hill's The Preacher and the Slave, which parodied the Salvation Army hymn In the Sweet Bye and Bye:

From the day of your birth it's bread and water here on earth
To a child of life to a child of life
But there'll be pie in the sky by and by when I die and it'll be alright it'll be alright
There'll be pie in the sky by and by when I die and it'll be alright it'll be alright

Sometimes I doubt and fear that I've really gained salvation here
For it's out of sight for it's out of sight

But there'll be pie in the sky

He said if I do his will there's a promise he'd fulfill
And he's gone now to prepare be a mansion up there

And there'll be pie in the sky
There'll be pie in the sky
There'll be pie in the sky.

The song, which criticized the Army's theology, 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. The 'pie in the sky when you die' line sums up Hill's response to the Salvation Army's philosophy.

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.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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