Have Your Cake and Eat It Too: English Vocabulary and Idioms

In May 1770, Marie Antoinette married the future King Louis XVI (she was 14, he was 15). They remained married for over twenty years, until both their lives and their monarchies were brought to an abrupt end during the French Revolution, in 1793. Marie Antoinette’s habit of spending large quantities of money on jewels and frivolous parties is well documented, but the phrase most often associated with her, “If they have no bread, then let them eat cake!” was never actually spoken by her. However, the last part of the phrase has remained with us (unlike Marie Antoinette’s head, which did not remain on her neck). Let them eat cake is now used as an idiom to mean “I don’t care what your problems are.” An idiom is a phrase with a particular meaning that may not be obviously related to the words in that phrase.

The saying “You can’t have it both ways!” is equivalent to the idiomatic expression to want to have your cake and eat it too. It’s impossible to leave a beautifully-decorated, delicious cake untouched on the counter and also enjoy eating a piece of that cake after your dinner. You can use this phrase to describe a situation where two mutually-exclusive things are both equally desirable.

The idiomatic phrase the icing on the cake can be used in both a positive and a negative manner. In either case, this phrase means that after some large event or series of events, something else occurs. Used positively, it means that you’ve done or received everything you wanted, and then were given even more without asking for it (example: “I just found out I have a full scholarship to Harvard, and as the icing on the cake, the graduate department is giving me an office of my own!”). Used negatively, that “even more” refers to something unexpected that made a situation even worse (example: “After a week of storms that tore the roof and siding off my house, learning that my insurance company is raising my rates was just icing on the cake.”).

Something that is extremely easy to accomplish is often described as being a piece of cake, and such tasks are also often said to be as easy as pie. No matter what your preference is for dessert, sit down to a healthy course of vocabulary study, and your life will definitely be sweeter!