I don't have anything nice to say about the new Pope.
The husband occasionally remarks to me "You're a piece of work, do you know that?" I'll respnd with "What does that mean?" All I get next is a wry grin. So I looked it up. Hmmm. Knowing him....knowing me....he's teasing - mainly - but it seems there's no cut and dried definition of the idiom. Some think it's another way of saying "You're an asshole", others think it just refers to a person who's being a little obtuse, obscure, obnoxious or difficult - I'll put my hand up to the first two ob...s, not the last two - as if!
"A piece of work", I was later able to enlighten Himself, comes originally from Will Shakespeare's Hamlet - Act 2:
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—
nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.
The Bard was putting a touch of irony into Hamlet's words I believe.
How about that second "piece" : a piece of cake? It's less ambiguous, easily interpreted. It refers to something that has proved, or is expected to prove, to be an easy task.
Origin of the phrase is less clear. Most sources quote a line from one of Ogden Nash's poems in a book, The Primrose Path, published in 1936. I haven't yet identified the exact poem, but the line goes: "Her picture's in the papers now, And life's a piece of cake." Did Nash invent the phrase himself, or was it culled from elsewhere? He was certainly no slouch when it came to inventing words! The phrase was rapidly picked up, or so it seemed, by British airmen in World War II. In 1943, author of Spitfires over Malta wrote: "The mass raids promised to be a 'piece of cake' and we expected to take a heavy toll." The phrase, possibly from that source, gained popular usage in Britain even faster than in the USA, but did the author of that book read Ogden Nash ?
Other possibilities for the origin of "a piece of cake", beyond Ogden Nash's use of it are: from ancient Greece, when a "cake" was a toasted cereal bound together with honey. It was given to the most vigilant man on night watch. Aristotle is quoted as having written in "The Knights": "if you surpass him in impudence, then we take the cake".
The idea of cake being "easy" seems to originate in the late 19th century. Cakes were given out as prizes for winning competitions. There was a tradition in the US South, the slavery states, where slaves would circle around a cake performing a kind of strutting dance step. The most outstanding pair would win the cake the in middle. The term "cake walk" came from this, also meaning that something was easy to accomplish....as in "it'll be a cake walk".
There is an equivalent French phrase for "piece of cake": c'est du gâteau; in Latin America also: "como un queque" meaning very easy - queque = cake. The first recorded use of "c'est du gâteau" was around 1952, according to Le Robert's Dictionnaire des expressions et locutions, so doesn't pre-date Ogden Nash's use of the phrase.
Although Ogden Nash's "piece of cake" is the first printed use of the phrase, it could well have been in oral use before that; or, Ogden Nash being Ogden Nash, a real piece of work one might say - he could have combined the traditions of Greece with traditions of the Southern States of his own land, and come up with the now common idiom. Piece of cake!
HERE and HERE.