Are you looking for a way to tell someone that they have to make a hard choice? If so, you could use “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.
The meaning of “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” refers to choosing between two options. Typically, these options are in contradiction to each other. For example, you want to go to a monster truck rally, but you have to study for an exam.
You can only pick one of the options, leaving the other behind. Typically, one offers gratification and short-term reward, while the other is more challenging, offering long-term rewards.
Choosing between the two is tough for the person, and they need to assess which choice offers them the best reward at the moment.
“I know you want to enjoy your weekend with your friends. But if you want to earn money to go out with them, you’ll have to get a weekend job. I’m not paying for your fun. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, son.”
“I wanted an affordable car, with luxury features and a powerful motor. The sales rep told me that that’s not possible. I’ll have to spend more money to get what I want. Oh well, I suppose I can’t have my cake and eat it too.”
“So, you want to do well on your exams, but you want to go out partying on the weekend. It’s either one or the other, Sandra. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Do you want to party or go to college? It’s your call.
The origin of the expression, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” comes from the glossary “A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue” compiled and written by John Heywood in 1546, where it appears as follows.
“Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?”
The phrase also appears in other works during the Tudor dynasty in England during the 1600s. “The Scourge of Folly,” written by John Davies in 1611, is the earliest and closest origin to the modern phrase, where it appears as follows.
“A man cannot eat his cake and haue it still.”
- You can’t have the best of both worlds.
- You cannot have it both ways.
- You can have your cake and eat it too.
- The world is your oyster.
What is the Correct Saying?
- You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Ways People May Say You It Incorrectly
Some people will use the phrase “you can have your cake and eat it too.” This saying goes against the original meaning of the proverb.
Acceptable Ways to Phrase It
You can use the expression “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” When you’re telling someone that they have to choose between two options where both seem appealing.
It’s a way of telling them that we don’t always get what we want in life, and sometimes we have to make tough decisions and sacrifice.
The phrase suits professional and social use. You could use it at home to tell your kids that they can only choose one birthday present. Or you could use it at work to tell someone that they got the result they wanted, at the cost of a minor discrepancy.