Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: you can’t eat your cake and have it too; you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

you can’t eat your cake and have it too; you can’t have your cake and eat it too. The second phrasing, now the more common one, is sometimes stigmatized: “The first form makes sense: once you’ve eaten the damned thing, you can no longer have it. Not so the later, corrupt form: you can have your cake — enjoy looking at it, or keep it in the freezer, or have it set aside for you at the bakery — and then, at the proper moment, eat it, too. But some dolt somewhere along the line reversed the order, and it stuck.” John Simon, Book Rev., The New Criterion, Mar. 1997, at 66, 69. In fact, though, it’s not clear that the second form is illogical — much less impossible. Assume that the phrase were “you can’t spend your money and save it too”; why couldn’t you just as easily say “you can’t save your money and spend it too”? Essentially, that idea is perfectly analogous to the one involving cake. But Simon is right that the “eat-have” sequence is the traditional one. That’s the phrasing given both in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (14th ed. 1989) and in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (16th ed. 1992). The latter book traces a form of the phrase back to John Heywood’s collection of colloquial Elizabethan sayings: “Would ye both eat your cake and have your cake?” Heywood, Proverbs pt. I, ch. 9 (1546). The Oxford English Dictionary gives examples from 1562, 1711, 1815 — all in the order that Simon prefers. Yet the “have-eat” sequence has been the dominant one since the mid-20th century — e.g.: o “I want to have my cake and eat it too.” Paul Gallico, “Mainly Autobiographical” (1946), in A Reader for Writers 30, 53 (William Targ ed., 1951). o “Still wanting to have your cake and eat it, too, Gregory?” Patricia Wrede, Mairelon the Magician 244 (1991). o “A theory that promises liberty as part of equality seems to allow us to have our cake and eat it too.” K. Anthony Appiah, “Equality of What?” N.Y. Rev. of Books, 26 Apr. 2001, at 63. Language-Change Index — “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”: Stage 5. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “When established idiom clashes with grammar, correctness is on the side of the idiom. Put another way, if sticking grimly to rules of grammar makes you sound like a pompous pedant, you are a pompous pedant.” William Safire (1983) (as quoted in Casey Miller & Kate Swift, The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing 1 (2d ed. 1988)).
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