No `piece of cake' to digest meaning of `eat humble pie'

March 10, 2004|By Christina Minor | Christina Minor,COX NEWS SERVICE

WACO, Texas - How many times have you used phrases such as "cool as a cucumber," "piece of cake" and "nutty as a fruitcake"?

Most sayings about food or referencing food are valuable to the time when they were created, said Lani Raiber, an assistant professor of hospitality and management studies at the Culinary Institute of America in New York.

"Think about the saying, `Bring home the bacon,' " Raiber said.

The phrase currently pertains to wages, not the pieces of sizzling meat served at breakfast. Its original meaning refers to entertainment at some of America's first county fairs, when contestants had to catch and hold down a greased pig. The winner got to take home the slippery hog, as in he got to take home the bacon, spare ribs and so on, said Robert Lukey, Arts and Sciences Department chairman at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C.

People change meanings of phrases to fit into current lifestyles or generations. Definitions also change between cultures.

Have you ever had to eat humble pie? It's not very tasty, having to swallow all that humility in one large bite. The saying is a take on a British phrase "eat numble pie," said Clay Butler, an English lecturer at Baylor University.

In jolly old England, numble once referred to the innards of animals. When the Britons came to the New World, the "n" got replaced with an "h" and the phrase became synonymous with being humble, Butler said.

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