Famous Sayings: #65 — ‘As Easy As Pie’

June 9, 2017

This assignment will be as easy as pie.

as easy as pie, easy, pleasant, appealing, famous sayings
Image by Sam Howzit via Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.

While I was looking up information on the saying “Piece of Cake,” I came across an entry for “Easy As Pie.” The sayings have similar meanings but different history, so I wisely packed away some of my earlier findings for later use.

The phrase “as easy as pie” is another simile, since it compares two dissimilar things, in order to “highlight some property” of the first thing being compared. In order for the similar to work, we must then “give an example of something that is well known to display” the property being highlighted (Martin).

Of course, the phrase “as easy as pie” means “very easy.” However, there are more meanings to the word “pie,” when used in idioms. I will explain that below, after getting to the origin of the phrase.


When Did the Phrase Originate?

My first stop was Businessballs, which has a large collection of phrases. The entry for “easy as pie” says the idiom originated in the nineteenth century, but not much else was given about the origin.

Over at The Phrase Finder, I found a pretty good entry for “as easy as pie.” The page confirms that the phrase originated in the United States during the 19th century, but Gary Martin pinpoints the earliest known usage to the year 1855, when the phrase “nice as pie” was found in the work Which: Left or Right.

For nearly a week afterwards, the domestics observed significantly to each other, that Miss Isabella was as ‘nice as pie!’

I searched for the work, which is really called Which: The Right, Or the Left.

For more context: After being told off, a character named Isabella tried to fetch a pitcher of water, but her nerves were so frazzled, she dropped the glass vessel. It fell to the ground and shattered into several pieces. Isabella called a maid to get another pitcher.

The fit, however, did not apparently last long. For when the maid returned with a fresh pitcher, she found her mistress somewhat more composed. And the next morning, and indeed for nearly a week afterwards, the domestics observed significantly to each other, that Miss Isabella was as ‘nice as pie!’

The phrase as we know it could be found in a comic strip published in a June 1887 edition of The Newport Mercury (Rhode Island):

You see veuever I goes I takes away mit me a silverspoon or a knife or somethings, an’ I gets two or three dollars for them. It’s easy as pie. Vy don’t you try it?


Is There Another Origin?

This entry at Businessballs cites Cassell’s Slang Dictionary when tracing the modern usage of the phrase as “late 1800’s American,” but says the logical path leads to earlier derivations. For example, the New Zealand Maori people, have a word ‘pai,’ which means “good.”

There are also more variations of the word “pai” from the early 1900’s: “half-pie” meant “mediocre or second rate” while “pie” meant “good or expert at something.”


What Does the Word Pie Mean in This Case?

The word “pie” is often used to relate how easy a task is (like how easy it is to eat a pie as opposed to making one). For example, take this quote found in the May 1886 edition of Sporting Life:

As for stealing second and third, it’s like eating pie.

The saying “easy as pie” can also mean “very appealing.” The idiom can also be paired with “pie” and “nice as pie” when we attach this meaning. That was shown in the quote from Which: The Right, Or the Left.

The word “pie” has yet another meaning. As evidenced by Mark Twain, the word could be used to say something is pleasant. Martin brought up a few examples from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884):

You’re always as polite as pie to them.

And …

So he took him to his own house, and dressed him up clean and nice … and was just old pie to him, so to speak.


Have I Ever Thought Something Was ‘As Easy As Pie’?

Honestly, I have never really used this term myself, although I was familiar with it. But of course, there are tasks that are very simple for me.

I would say something that came easy to me was taking some quizzes.

For instance, when I was in high school, I finished a trigonometry quiz in 10 minutes. Usually, when I finished quizzes very quickly, I would later discover some mistakes I made after grade, but I aced that quiz. Since I took all the notes I needed to take, I guess you can see completing that quiz was “as easy as pie.”

(Don’t ask me about trig now. I have forgotten quite a bit since then.)


Works Cited

“Chapter XII.” Which: The Right, Or the Left? Garrett & Co. New York; 1855. Print. Page 184.

“Easy as Pie Phrase Meaning.” Know Your Phrase. Web. Retrieved 9 June 2017. <http://www.knowyourphrase.com/phrase-meanings/easy-as-pie.html>.

“free expressions meaning, words, phrases origins and derivations.” Businessballs. Web. Retrieved 24 Mar 2017. <http://www.businessballs.com/clichesorigins.htm#P-meanings >.

Martin, Gary. “As easy as pie.” The Phrase Finder. Web. Retrieved 9 June 2017. <http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/as-easy-as-pie.html>.

Martin, Gary. “What Are ‘Similes’?” The Phrase Finder. Web. Retrieved 9 June 2017. Web. <http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/similes.html>.

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