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Pie in the sky

Posted by ESC on May 22, 2001

In Reply to: More on "promised pie", please posted by Dan, again on May 22, 2001

: : : : A student I work with recently failed to
: : : : follow through on an implied obligation that was not
: : : : necessarily a responsibility, but more along
: : : : the lines of a favor.
: : : :
: : : : When informing me later she said, "thanks a million for (the help)
: : : : and I owe you big time for not sending you promised pie. Please
: : : : please bear with me, I have been (very busy, etc..) I assure you,
: : : : solemn promise you will have it in hand before the end of the week.
: : : : Scout's honor (I was never a scout but still :-) "
: : : :
: : : : I asked her on telephone if she could tell me more about the phrase
: : : : - was it slang, a literary reference, anything to do with "getting a
: : : : piece of the pie" or the duty being "easy as pie" - ?
: : : : she just thought it was something she "grew up with"

: : : : Any input out there on the phrase, "promised pie" ?

: : : Something promised is "pie in the sky, in the sweet by and by." Maybe that's where she got the expression.

: Thanks for the response, ESC, but I was hoping for additional ideas.
: If your response is the definitive one, I think I need more than that to go on.
: Is that a song lyric? Have you any source material for "pie in the sky, in
: the sweet by and by."? Do you have more of the lyrics, so I can find the song?

PIE IN THE SKY - "scornful characterization of liberal or populist promises. In the vocabulary of rhetorical counterattack - 'empty promises,' 'cruel demagoguery,' 'callous vote-buying' - none has been more durable than 'pie in the sky.' In the face of this withering return fire, even the word 'promise' has disappeared from campaign oratory, supplanted by the more solemn 'pledge.'

The origin of 'pie of the sky' was supplied the author by laborlore specialist Archie Green, a professor of English at Ohio State University. The phrase was coined around 1910 in 'The Preacher and the Slave,' a composition by legendary labor hero Joe Hill, which became part of the widely distributed 'little red songbooks' of the Industrial Workers of the World (the I.W.W., or 'Wobblies').

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.

Professor Green rightly calls this phrase 'the most significant Wobbly contribution to the American vocabulary.' Conservative speakers have been seizing on it for denunciation for three generations."

From "Safire's New Political Dictionary" by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993). Page 575-576.

  • Pie R. Berg 05/23/01