Saturday, March 16, 2013

New Pope and Two Pieces

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 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!

See also


Anonymous said...

I can understand if you have "nothing to say," but if you have "nothing NICE to say" then you have certainly piqued my curiosity. Can you elaborate, just a little?

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~~ Enough to say that all the hoo-haa about the new Pope being humble is a wee bit premature until it becomes clear how he will act in his new role. Humble and The Vatican are two words which do not usually appear together - the opposite in fact. If he's a "Pope of the people" - well - we shall see in time, but it's a hasty conclusion to come to without evidence in his newly appointed exalted position.

I perhaps ought to have written "I have nothing nice to say YET."

♥ Sonny ♥ said...

From what I've read he is called Humble by those who know him,, but he is also ultra conservative in his thoughts and thats all I need to be clear about the fact that he wont be acting like Jesus, who's love and compassion was for ALL..

thats my take on it anyway.

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ That's a nicely balanced view of the situation, Sonny. :-)
From what I've read he has to be a bit of an enigma.....but aren't we all?

In a way his election reminds me a bit of the election of President Obama (twice). In his case the country was in dire need of someone who would seem to be the opposite of the previous incumbent (emphasis on SEEM) - to please the people who were disgusted and disgruntled.

In the Pope's case, the Roman Catholic Church was in dire need of a figure who would be able to gloss over or change the icky reputation left behind by the previous incumbent.

Similar situation.

It didn't quite work in the first case - in the second? Time alone will tell.

Anonymous said...

Robert Wilkinson over at Aquarius Papers has managed to address all this Popey-ness in an oblique yet apt manner in his piece entitled, 'Bearing the Cost of Doing the Right Thing.'
For my part, I imagine hell will have to freeze over before I can muster anything nice to say about the Church of Rome.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Twilight said...

Sabina ~~ Thanks for the pointer to Robert Wilkinson's piece - good one!

Pope Francis, if what we are reading is the truth, must have two very distinct sides to his personality - or perhaps some of it is fiction, RC propaganda or guesswork and exaggeration on the part of the press. I grow cynical when press stories don't add up. Humility doesn't go with the rest of the story...but it's good PR.

Twilight said...

Sabina - PS I deleted the duplicated comment. ;-)

Ben said...

It's his very close ties to the former military dictatorships in Argentina that people should be concerned about.
This man is associated with the most rabid vicious right wing politics in South America.

He oversaw the extermination of left leaning priests during the military junta era and clearly has blood on his hands.

So all in all, he's clearly perfect for the role of Pope. Just like the Borgias before him.

Twilight said...

Ben ~ Hi! Yes, there's a lot more to Pope Francis than "simplicity and humility", that's for sure.

I've just read this on the topic at the Christian Science Monitor:

The church is, apparently, blaming a left-wing smear campaign for the stories involving the Pope with the Argentine junta's atrocities. Well - they would, wouldn't they? They hate anything left of middle-road conservative.

At the very least the new Pope failed to speak out against the atrocities at the time. I think the previous Pope also failed to speak out - in his case against Nazi atrocities. Seems to be a failing of Popes doesn't it?

James Higham said...

Nor do I but I wonder if it's for the same reasons, Twilight?

Twilight said...

James Higham ~ There's little we can agree on, so probably not. ;-)