Saturday, July 26, 2008

Eat Your Cake

The meaning of the expression “To eat your cake and have it too” is that one wants to have something both ways when the two ways are mutually exclusive. I suspect the literal meaning is often forgotten or overlooked, but it actually is serviceable in grasping the concept: the correct sense is that one wants to eat his cake and still have it. The two parts of the expression are frequently reversed as “To have your cake and eat it too.” There’s no difficulty in that, of course: anyone can have a cake and eat it. Ah, but to eat it and still have it: that is a worthy trick.

A popular expression whose literal meaning is obscure to me is “To call a spade a spade.” This is broadly understood to mean that one looks at a situation square-on, without equivocation or dissembling; as such it is a near cousin of saying “The emperor has no clothes.” But (Erasmus aside) what the literal meaning is of calling a spade a spade is I have no clear idea.

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