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  • Ah Stan, would you stop…I’m all confused now. Do I want to have my cake and eat it or eat my cake and have it or forgo cake entirely and just have a biscuit instead? I think I’ll give them all up and resign myself to fruit. I could (or couldn’t ?) care less

  • Helen: I think if anyone concludes from this post that they should stick to fruit, that’s a better result than I could have hoped for. As for the idiom, use it whichever way you like; it’s going to puzzle people no matter what.

  • Stan:
    I never had a problem with the idiom. As a child, I was often admonished that “you CAN’T have your cake and eat it too” (although I railed against the unfairness of it all).

  • 1. “I could care less.”

    In UK English the expression is “I couldn’t care less”, which makes more sense.

    2. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”
    There is an older version of this expression that I have come across in UK literature: “You can’t have your cake and ha’penny” (a ha’penny being a half penny).

  • Marc: Yes, it’s usually said in the negative, to draw attention to the impossibility. When it comes to cake, though, that just doesn’t seem fair (or entirely logical).

  • someone else (as a kid) had the same thought as i had, as a kid. my feeling was if i were to have cake, of course i would eat it. wot dumbheads.
    that was then when i was too much the literalist and not yet aware of the treachery of adults. after all these years and decades i can deal with metaphors, similes, analogies and am extremely treacherous.

  • Is having your cake and eating it too one of those pie in the sky notions? I think we’d all be happier in the here and now if we acknowledged that cake is a waste of a dessert space — pie is where it’s at. 😉

  • Julie: Yes. As I said in the post about could care less, this version of the phrase is “usually informal and American”.
    “You can’t have your cake and ha’penny” is an interesting variation, and one I haven’t heard before. It makes more sense, I think.

    Mac: Some metaphors can be hard to get one’s head around as a child. I suspect this one caused a fair bit of confusion.

    David: The entry in Ronald Ridout and Clifford Witting’s book English Proverbs Explained mentions a few similar ones, such as: “You cannot burn the candle at both ends”; “You cannot sell the cow and drink the milk.”

    Dawn: I’m going to spin a new expression for the occasion: You can enjoy the pie without condemning the cake. I’m fond of buns and tart, myself.

  • If one wants to dig up some proverbs, she/he might find they are self-contradictory & do not seem logic.
    Regarding the cake, to my thinking it might belong to conceptual metaphor, i.e one can’t expect to consume something & save it meanwhile. What I understand this sentence is: if you eat up the cake, you are unlikely to possess/save it at hand.
    An oriental proverb has almost the same meaning as mentioned above: you can not have the bear paw & the fish at the same time. Actually it does not make any sense to many people, because these two are definitely likely to be owned by a person. Due to the fact that it’s a metaphor indicating the unlikelihood of possessing something at the same time, there is no need to split hairs on purpose over the subtle content.

  • Teo/Juan: “one can’t expect to consume something & save it meanwhile”
    Yes, that’s how I’ve always interpreted it too. And you’re right: proverbs, or sets of proverbs, sometimes are contradictory, and there are many examples in different languages analogous to having/eating cake. My intention is not to deride the paradox, but to examine it.

  • This idiom didn’t mean much to me as a child either: we couldn’t afford cake. Other food-related idioms also puzzled me (a very literal-minded child), like “Too many cooks spoil the broth”. I didn’t mind how many cooks there were, so long as there weren’t enough to eat up all the ‘broth’ themselves, spoiled or otherwise. I had no idea which side my bread was buttered on, though I could detect a scraping of margarine. And why did people bother to repeat the self-evident fact that “Half a loaf is better than no bread” as if it were a pearl of wisdom?

  • Gill: It used to bother me that “Too many cooks spoil the broth” and “Many hands make light work” so glaringly contradicted each other. But there is, if not a truth, then a truism for every occasion. I was never quite sure why it mattered what side my bread was buttered either, so long as it wasn’t the side that fell face down (and who could predict that!?).

  • I like that version, Ron. Though it makes me wish cakes were still available for a ha’penny — and that ha’pennies themselves were still available.

  • I was born in Yorkshire but raised in Lancashire – our family have always said “you can’t have your cake and ha’penny.” I always believed it meant you couldn’t have it both ways. The saying associated with the Brexit vote made me search for the original meaning.

  • Thanks for letting us know, Helen. That version of the phrase makes more immediate sense, except for the suggestion that you might still get a cake for a ha’penny!