11 baking idioms to whet your appetite
The Great British Bake Off is now back on UK screens, and we thought it would be the perfect excuse to spend a post writing about phrases in English which use baking in them. Shockingly, it turns out that we love slipping cakes into everyday conversation – there are a lot of them!
1. To be caught with your hand in the cookie jar
Have you ever had one (or a few) too many cookies and then felt horribly guilty about it? If so, this is the phrase for you! It extends figuratively to encompass someone being caught doing anything wrong or mischievous.
2. Easy as pie
This phrase refers to ‘something easily accomplished or dealt with’and began life, according to the OED, in the early 20th century. We all know just how easy it is to consume a slice of pie (or a whole pie…).
3. The icing on the cake
Both this and cherry on top refer to ‘an additional benefit to something that is already good’, although they can now also used ironically to mean the opposite of this. So why are these common analogies? Essentially, because: cake is good; cake with icing is an improvement; cake with icing and a cherry is infinitely better.
4. To take the biscuit
The phrase is used in British English to refer to something that is the most remarkable of its kind; it can also be used ironically to refer to something that is foolish or annoying. In North American English to take the cake is used instead.
5. To have a finger in every pie
Meaning: ‘to be involved in too many things’, generally with the negative connotation of doing too many things to be able to do any of them well – this is a popular concept across the globe, with similar idioms in other languages. Italian, for instance, has the very similar avere le mani in pasta, meaning ‘to have your hands in dough’, and in Yiddish there is .מיט איין תּחת קען מען ניט טאַנצן אויף צוויי חתונות, meaning ‘You can’t dance at two weddings with one behind.’
6. Cookie cutter
This is a common term in US English, and uses the baking implement metaphorically to refer to ‘something mass-produced or lacking any distinguishing characteristics’. It seems to be most commonly used in association with buildings, as in ‘cookie-cutter apartments’ or ‘cookie-cutter complexes’.
7. To have your cake and eat it too
You can’t enjoy two desirable but mutually exclusive things, or so Confucius says. This idiom’s first recorded English use in the OED is from John Heywood’s Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies (1562.
8. As American as apple pie
Apple pie is seen as a stereotypically American food, so this idiom means ‘embodying traditional values; particularly American ideals’. In Australia, you’re more likely to hear: as Australian as meat pie.
9. Cake hole
Cake hole is used informally to mean ‘mouth’, often used in sentences like ‘Shut your cake hole!’ The origin for this one is self-explanatory: the mouth is the hole that the cake goes into. More recently, pie hole has become a common version of this.
10. To sell like hotcakes
Used to refer to something that sells quickly and in large quantities. But what exactly is a hotcake? In North America, hotcake is used to mean any type of cake which is baked on a griddle, including pancakes.
11. That’s the way the cookie crumbles
This means ‘that is the way it is’ and came into use in the 20th century. In American English, you’ll also hear: that’s the way the ball bounces.