You can't have your cake and eat it too

Discussion in 'English Only' started by La Bionda, Sep 29, 2005.

  1. La Bionda Senior Member

    Nottingham
    German (Living in England)
    Hi

    I have asked this question in the Italian forum since I wanted to know if there is an idiom that means the same thing.

    However, now I am here with the same phrase but a question: what does it actually mean?
    :)
     
  2. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    "You can't have your cake and eat it, too" is a saying that describes the dilemma faced when you want one thing very much, but you are not willing to give up other things in order to have it.

    For example: A young handsome man starts dating a beautiful young woman. He falls in "like" with her, but is not willing to have a committed relationship because he still wants to "play the field" and date other women. Rightly, the young woman knocks him on his rear and sends him packing, saying: "You can't have your cake and eat it, too."

    In other words, what he wants are two things that are opposite one another. He cannot have both.
     
  3. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    I admit this confused me for a long time, even as a native. I mean I knew it means 'you can't have it both ways', but it wasn't until I saw it flipped around that I really understood its meaning: You can't eat your cake and (still) have it. You can't eat your cake and save it for late. You can't use your savings to buy a new car and still have the savings afterwards.
     
  4. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I think you've taken this a little bit into apples-and-oranges territory here. It's not a matter of having conflicting interests in two different things, but trying to get double duty out of the same one thing. You can't show off your emerald necklace while it's locked away for safekeeping.

    You're saying I can't have a piece of cake now, and also a wee sliver of pie later, as a midnight snack. My doctor died and left you his practice?

    For me, Aupick's simpler explanation has it covered.

    Not that I'm criticizing your creative use of the phrase. When you've kicked that two-timing guy to the curb, it's not such a bad idea if your parting shot leaves him scratching his head and saying "now what was that all about?"
    .
     
  5. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    If I were GenJen54's would-be two-timing lover (not that THAT could ever happen), her "You can't have your cake and eat it" would convey exactly the right message.
    GenJen is clearly laying down the law.
    I go for a relationship with her and give up the rest;
    or I don't have a relationship with her.

    The message is that you are trying to take hold of two things that are mutually incompatible.

    I appreciate that this may not work with the literal understanding of the statement, but it is how I have always understood it.
     
  6. Amityville

    Amityville Senior Member

    France
    English UK
    There is the same expression in French except it's for butter not cake and goes a step further. You can't have the butter, and the income from the butter, and the smile of the dairymaid...in view of GenJen's serial relationships it seemed relevant...
     
  7. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    American English, Palestinian Arabic
    Thanks for the illuminating explanation! :idea:

    I have also always wondered about this expression - I did not realize the eating was meant to precede the "having" of the cake chronologically. Hence my confusion. What good is a cake you can't eat?

    But now it makes sense!

    I think it would be more logical to say "You can't eat your cake and have it too."
     
  8. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Logic is often the enemy-- you can't have both perfection and poetry.
     
  9. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs:D
     
  10. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Yeah, so are the positions of the setup and the punchline. In other words by people who don't listen. A proverb can't set up vididly and wrap up anteclimactically. Now which of the verbs, have or eat, is the baseline, and which is the peak? Which is nondescript and porous of meaning, in fact even an auxiliary verb at times-- and which is strong, visceral, a word of action?

    The world may be destined to end in a whimper-- that doesn't mean proverbs have to.
    .
     
  11. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    :thumbsup: Ab-so-lu-tely.:thumbsup:
    I'm sorry/ashamed I hadn't thought of that.
    Let the language fall victim to strict logic and literature swirls down the plughole, leaving behind a sludge of utilitarian word-sequences.
     
  12. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Bingo. And more than literature. In Philosophy and Law, for example, you'd think it was getting the logic right that made the crucial difference, in human terms, between word-sequences and word-consequences-- but counterintuitively, it's poetry. The Constitution has to be nailed as a resonant and inspiring thing people don't have to keep consulting-- they remember its intonations. Once this is in place, the consequence of statutes can begin.
    .
     
  13. La Bionda Senior Member

    Nottingham
    German (Living in England)
    Thank you all for your responses. Apologies for only getting back to you now - have been away.

    I am glad to realise that it is not just me but also the natives who find this saying confusing. :D

    But it sort of starts to make more sense to me now.

    Thanks again! This Forum is really a great help through the people who use it! :)
     
  14. tottallyoff

    tottallyoff Senior Member

    London
    russian
    Can someone explain that one to me? Ok. I know what you are going to say. You cant have one or the other. But when you are having your cake arent you eating it as well? So is that like mutually exlusive?
     
  15. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    To want to have your cake and eat it too means that you are not satisfied. It indicates a disatisfaction with something. You can have your cake on a plate on the table - and not be eating it!
     
  16. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    No, I'm not going to say you can't have one or the other. It means you can't have both. If you eat your cake it's no longer on your plate.

    The equivalent French idiom is, perhaps, even more graphic: you can't have the butter and the money you need to buy the butter.
     
  17. tottallyoff

    tottallyoff Senior Member

    London
    russian
    so the explanation is that 'you can either have one or the other and not both'? Its a bit confusing. You can have a meal and you can eat a meal at 2 different times and not at the same time? The 'butter' reference explains it, but I am just confused by the use of 'have' and 'eat' in this context.
     
  18. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    "The original and only sensible version of this saying is “You can’t eat your cake and have it too,” meaning that if you eat your cake you won’t have it any more. People get confused because we use the expression “have some cake” to mean “eat some cake,” and they therefore misunderstand what “have” means in this expression." List of errors
     
  19. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    The expression is you can't have your cake and eat it. I've never seen it with a too at the end, though that may make it more comprehensible.
     
  20. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    The expression in England may not include the "too", but it is most commonly spoken in the U.S. with the "too" at the end. You'll find that there are far more occurrences of "and eat it too" in a Google search than there are "eat it" with no "too."
     
  21. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    The original is “You can’t eat your cake and have it too."

    There is no contradiction with having your cake and eating it too. It makes perfect sense that you have it before you eat it. But once you've eaten it, you no longer have it. Thus, the importance of the word order.
     
  22. Grease New Member

    New York
    Italy, Italian
    By the way, there is an Italian expression for that, it basically sounds "you can't have your barrel full and your wife drunk": if your wife drinks all the wine, then she gets drunk and you don't have your wine anymore. Interesting would be to know what the ins of having a drunk wife are supposed to be...
     
  23. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Well now, what do you mean by original, river?

    Look at this:

    Though presumably rather older, it is first written down in John Heywood’s A Dialogue Conteynyng Prouerbes and Epigrammes of 1562: “Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?”. John Keats quoted it as eat your cake and have it at the beginning of his poem On Fame in 1816; Franklin D Roosevelt borrowed it in that form for his State of the Union Address in 1940; a search of nineteenth-century literature shows it to be about twice as common as the other. But a quick Google search shows the have your cake and eat it form is now about ten times as frequent, and all my dictionaries of idioms and proverbs cite it that way.

    Did you mean to go back to John Heywood and Keats? Or are we talking about the common form of the proverb now?
     
  24. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    Thank you, Thomas. So Keats agrees with me. *smile*
    I wasn't aware of these quotes; I was simply quoting Professor Brians (list of errors). The original order makes sense but it somehow got turned around over the years.
     
  25. nasridine Senior Member

    USA
    Chinese, China
    What does this sentence mean? I did a google search and some one explained: you cannot spend something and have it. I am still confused about this, could someone give me an example?

    Besides, I looked at some Chinese website, it has been translated into an old Chinese saying: You can't have A and B at the same time. You gotta pick one.

    I don't think these two explanations are exactly the same, are they?
     
  26. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    After you eat the cake, you can't have it anymore.

    No, they are not exactly the same. In the English version, you are choosing between having or eating/spending the same thing.

    While in the Chinese one, you are choosing between two things.
     
  27. idialegre Senior Member

    Hamburg, Germany
    USA English
    The saying as I know it is, "You can't have your cake and it eat too." What it means is that if two options are mutually exclusive, you cannot choose them both. Another common phrase is, "You can't have it both ways."
     
  28. PhudE New Member

    Luton, England, English
    I think the correct saying is "You can't bake your cake and eat it"

    If you were going to change the word "bake" I think it should be changed to "make"

    I actually bake cakes so I understand the word bake.
     
  29. Trisia

    Trisia mod de viață

    București
    Romanian
    Welcome to the forum, PhudE! Nice to have you here.

    Well, actually, you can definitely bake your cake and eat it. Unless you're a terrible cook, of course :eek::D.
     

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