Meaning Of “You Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It Too”
When someone says “you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” that usually means there are two desirable options that a person wants, but it’s impossible for them to have both because these options conflict with each other, so they can only pick one.
Example: Josh was offered a promotion at his job, but it would require him to change his schedule so that he could work on the weekends. However, he liked spending the weekends hanging out with his friends. So what would he do?
Josh wants the best of both worlds in this scenario; he wants to take the offer so he can earn more money at his job, but he also wants the time he spends with his friends to remain unchanged. So his brother told him:
“Josh, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You have to make a choice: Do you want to spend your weekends at work or with your friends?” In other words, his brother was telling him “you can’t have it both ways.”
The Origin Of “You Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It Too”
According to this proverb, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. When people hear this, they sometimes get confused and ask: “Wait, why can’t I do both?” The answer is because if you eat the cake, then you would no longer have it afterwards. Indeed, you can’t have something when it’s not there anymore!
This phrase might be easier to understand if the wording was changed slightly so that it read as: “You can’t eat your cake and also have it.”
This proverb highlights how sometimes there might be two desirable things that someone wants, but they can’t have both of those things because they contradict each other (like in the example above). It’s similar to other sayings, such as “you can’t have the best of both worlds” or “you can’t have it both ways.”
Anyways, this proverb is at least over 470 years old. For example, it appears in a book by John Heywood called A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the english tongue, 1546:
“Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?”
Here is a second example of how this proverb might be used:
Mike realized he spent most of his day sitting behind a desk. In order to become more active, he wanted to buy a rowing machine for his home, one that was very high quality and also cheap as dirt. But where would he find such a deal?
“When it comes to rowing machines,” his friend advised, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you want a higher quality machine, then it will be more expensive. Or if you go with a cheaper model, then the quality will take a hit. You have to choose one way or the other.”
Did You Know?
Several phrases today use the word “cake.” Let’s look at 5 common examples:
1. A piece of cake
This means something is easy to do.
2. To take the cake
To be a stand out example (e.g., I’ve slept on many beds, but this new one takes the cake.)
3. A cakewalk
This is another expression means something is simple to do.
4. To have one’s cake and eat it too
Hey, you just read about this one! It’s meaning is up at the top!
5. Selling like hot cakes
This refers to something that’s selling really fast.