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Have one's cake and eat it

Posted: Thu Sep 16, 2010 10:58 am
by Audiendus
To have one's cake and eat it (too) - to consume something and then still possess it; to "have it both ways".

I used to be puzzled by this expression. Why have a cake if one cannot eat it? It should, of course, logically be "eat one's cake and have it (too)", and although that is sometimes heard, it is not the usual form of the idiom. Can anyone suggest why we normally use the illogical version?

Also, note that the "have" is essential to the phrase. In spoken English one sometimes hears it carelessly omitted, e.g. "He always wants his cake and eat it".

Posted: Thu Sep 16, 2010 6:23 pm
by Slava
Audiendus, I'm puzzled by your puzzlement here. Doesn't the phrase work in both directions?

I tend to apply this to the purchase of fancy wines. If you're buying an "investment" bottle, you have the wine, but you can't drink it. Would that not be the same with cake?

Posted: Thu Sep 16, 2010 7:32 pm
by Audiendus
I can see that the idea makes sense when applied to fancy wines. But the problem is that the idiom specifically refers to cake, which is something one always buys in order to eat.

In any case, you can have "investment" wine and then drink it if you change your mind, but it is logically impossible for the having to come after the drinking. So I think the idiom would be clearer, and more generally applicable, if it were put the other way round. There are many things that one has and then expends; but there is nothing that one expends and then still has.