This week we investigate whether a pie by any other name taste as sweet.
Some time around 1300 the word pie appeared in English. It was used to refer to meat or fish encased in pastry. Some etymologists argue that it came from an Old English word for bakery, piehus, while others argue pie must have pre-dated piehus because the Old English word for house was — you guessed it — hus, thus the word for bakery might have simply meant pie house. Sadly, at the moment we don’t have enough linguistic forensic information to answer this pressing question.
Pie seems to have a relationship with a Medieval Latin word meaning the same thing. It also seems to be connected with the word magpie. The connection may be that a medieval pie included various foodstuffs, while a pastry included only one, and a magpie has a fascination for collecting miscellaneous objects. Just think, if it tables were turned on those two words, we’d all be calling a black and white bird a magpastry.
In the 1500s, a cunning person could be referred to as a wily pie.
By the 1600s, the word pie could be used to label a fruit-filled pastry.
In the 1830s, folks forced to face humiliation could be said to be eating humble pie. This idiom is based on umble pie, a pie made of inglorious animal parts — a dish eaten by folks who couldn’t afford anything else — thus the confusion with the word humble.
The inaccurate, yet ubiquitous idiom easy as pie showed up in 1889.
As of 1904 we could label an inebriated individual as pie-eyed.
By 1911, unrealistic hopes could be referred to as pie in the sky.
And in 1922 the term pie chart was born.
The word pi has no relationship to pie — pi came through Greek from a Phoenician word meaning little mouth & appeared in English in 1748 to refer to the mathematical constant 3.14…
If you’re inspired to comment non-etymologically, consider sharing your favorite sort of pie.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: the OED, Etymonline, Collins Dictionary, Merriam Webster, & Wordnik.
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I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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