'A Piece of Cake' and other figures of speech widely used in English

L’uso di figure retoriche e frasi fatte è uno degli aspetti più idiosincratici di ogni lingua. Negli ultimi tempi sulla stampa britannica sono apparse numerose metafore che hanno a che vedere con il mondo della pasticceria. Ne analizziamo alcune.

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A piece of cake and other english idioms

The media love a metaphor, those figures of speech that can fire our imaginations but leave the practical details open to interpretation. Metaphors might seem like a fancy addition to language, to add style, the ‘icing on the cake’. They are essential to language and definitely not just the ‘cherry on top’. So where do we start? You might guess from the two metaphors already mentioned that we’re going to be focusing on…cake!

A piece of cake

The metaphor “(it’s) a piece of cake”, meaning, “that’s so easy” often appears in articles about lifestyle. Here are three examples found online: “Flying with a baby: it’s a piece of cake”; “Filing your tax return can be a piece of cake”. I’m not sure I agree with any of these claims, but you get the idea.

The icing on the cake

The metaphors “the icing on the cake” and “the cherry on top” are similar, meaning something that makes a good situation even better. A recent exhibition of artwork by Leonardo da Vinci included one where the painter’s thumbprint is visible. In a newspaper interview, the exhibition organiser said that being able to include this picture in the exhibition was “the icing on the cake”.


Back in April 2016, Barak Obama criticised the proposals of Donald Trump to control Mexican immigration, calling their ideas “half-baked”.  Republican plans for building a border wall were, claimed Obama, “not thought through”, and would lead to “unintended consequences”. And that is what “half-baked” means. If you take a cake out of the oven when it’s only half-baked it’s not really a cake yet, more like a sticky mess.

Selling like hot cakes

“The new iPhone sold like hot cakes.” This expression – strictly speaking, it is not a metaphor, but a simile as it includes the word ‘like – means that something is bought quickly and in large numbers. Introduced to Britain in the 15th century, ‘hotcakes’ were a kind of pancake that were sold at fairs and later became very popular.

Have it and eat it?

During the Brexit campaign, pro-leave MP Boris Johnson tried to persuade Britons that leaving the European Union would mean Britain “having its cake and eating it.” Through this metaphor, Johnson suggested that the UK could keep the benefits provided by the EU, while at the same time getting rid of the drawbacks. The Remain camp were quick to point out that the “have your cake and eat it” metaphor is generally used in the negative. For instance: “You can’t have your cake and eat it.” Because that would be absurd. You can either eat it, or have it, but not both. In fact, the use of this cake metaphor when discussing Brexit became so widespread that a new word, “cakeism”, was invented.

Cookies and biscuits

So, you see, cake metaphors are all around us. As, indeed, are biscuit metaphors. If only there was more space, we could explore: “that’s the way the cookie crumbles”; “that takes the biscuit”; “to be caught with your hand in the cookie jar”…  And don’t even get me started on pie metaphors!

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