Piece of cake

Posted by James Briggs on April 26, 2005

In Reply to: Piece of cake posted by Smokey Stover on April 26, 2005

: : : Where did "piece of cake" originate and what does it mean?

: : From the archives:

: : : THAT'S A PIECE OF CAKE -- "Something that can be done easily and pleasurably. The light-verse writer Ogden Nash had this line in 'Primrose Path' : 'Her picture's in the papers now, and life's a piece of cake.' The thought surely derives from the fact that for most people eating a piece of cake is easy and a pleasure." " From The Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).

: : PIECE OF CAKE/EASY AS PIE - My guess is that these expressions (and one my grandmother used to describe a happy time, "everything's going to be honey and pie") relate to the "good life" of sitting around at one's leisure eating dessert - rather than a reference to the ease of making and baking.

: : The Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman states that: "It's a piece of cake - It's very easy to do. First used in the mid-twentieth century. During World War II, British soldiers used the expression to describe a mission that was extremely easy to accomplish."

: : However, the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1977) give America the credit for originating the phrase. Mr. and Mrs. Morris also give the origin of "easy as pie."

: : "piece of cake/easy as pie - The two expressions are remarkably alike in meaning. 'As easy as pie' is an American expression. Back in the 1890s 'pie' was a common slang expression meaning anything easy, a cinch; the expression easy as pie stemmed quite readily from that. A 'piece of cake' has a somewhat more devious history. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it first appeared in print in a work by Ogden Nash, who wrote in 1936: 'Her picture's in the papers now, and life's a piece of cake.' But, if it first turned up in America, it was swiftly adopted by British airmen in World War II. In 1943 the author of 'Spitfires over Malta' wrote: 'The mass raids promised to be a 'piece of cake' and we expected to take a heavy toll.' Certainly 'piece of cake' was more originally more popular in Britain than in the United States."

: : Some history of a related phrase, from Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day: Partridge says that "Cut yourself a piece of cake!" is recorded by H. L. Mencken as an English catchphrase in a 1948 supplement to "The American Language." Partridge's entry also includes a quotation from a former journalist: "I'm reminded that whenever I entered Gracie Fields's dressing-room for an interview in the 1930s, she used to greet me with 'Come in, lad, and cut thisen a piece o'cake.'"

: I'm still wondering about those phrases. A piece of cake is easy to cut, but not so easy to make. And what's so easy about pie? Have you ever made one? Did you also make the crust? I know there has to be SOMETHING easy about pie. Hurry up, I'm waiting! (Yes, I know. Way back in time, a pie could be a bunch of stuff thrown together. But if it had a crust, I'm still not sure how it could be easy.) SS

There is a much older possible origin, going back to the ancient Greeks. A "cake" in those times was a toasted cereal bound together with honey. It was given to the most vigilant man on night watch. Aristotle is quoted as having written in "The Knights": "if you surpass him in impudence, then we take the cake".