Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Episode 157: Piece of Cake Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

157 Piece of Cake

Record Date: May 24, 2022

Air Date: May 25, 2022

Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook

Shauna is out sick this week, so I’ll be going on a solo adventure with you this week as we do a short look into the phrase, “Piece of cake”.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, piece of cake means:


something easy or pleasant

End Quote

This phrase doesn’t appear to originate until the mid 1930s. The first attestation, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is from the 1935 or 1936 work The Primrose Path by Ogden Nash. 


Her picture’s in the papers now, And life’s a piece of cake.

End Quote

This one surprised me that it appears to have originated so late. I expected it to be something from the 1800s at the latest. Especially when I started researching with the term “piece of cake” in quotations. Because it was in numerous newspapers every single day in England and in many newspapers in the US as well. It was being used literally in all of those cases, at least until the 1940s. But the ubiquity of it, the fact that it was in so many newspapers so frequently, made me feel cake was an expected part of life. You’d find it at parties, at special events, at birthdays, at weddings, and sometimes at evening dinner. It was everywhere. And something that is everywhere is often taken for granted, which then makes it look easy. So I was surprised when I couldn’t find the phrase until the mid-1930s. Until new works are digitized and brought to light, we’ll have to stick with this phrase originating in the mid-1930s.

I did find one claim that I thought warranted a mention, just because of how close the timing was. This one is from, commenting on the origin of “piece of cake”:


This expression originated in the Royal Air Force in the late 1930s for an easy mission, and the precise reference is as mysterious as that of the simile easy as pie

End Quote,the%20simile%20easy%20as%20pie

They didn’t give any citations for that claim and no one’s name was on the paragraph for me to try to follow up with. There is no evidence it originated there. But there is evidence that WWII may have helped popularize the term, with those in uniform using the phrase. 

Here’s an example from the 1947 work Part and Parcel, an Anthology: Essay, Jingle, Sketch, and Story by John Baker Opdycke.


An American officer in London in 1942, is reported to have said: “The rhubarb was a piece of cake. They pranged the drome and strafed down a couple of Jerries into the drink.”

What he meant was this : This sortie ( rhubarb ) was easy ( piece of cake ) . They smashed ( pranged ) the enemy flying field ( drome ) and shot down ( strafed ) a couple of Germans ( Jerries ) into the sea ( drink ) .

End Quote

Another example of military folks using the term comes from this account out of the Evening Star, Washington, DC, February 4, 1943. This one is told from the perspective of Waist Gunner Elmer Berger from Temple, Oklahoma. He mentioned First Lt Kermit Beahan of Houston, Texas in the story excerpt.  (Start at On Jan 29 - read until plane from flak)

Here’s one from the Dundee Evening Telegraph, out of Angus, Scotland, dated 12 May 1943. It’s an advertisement for the Cake & Biscuit Manufacturers War-Time Alliance. Titled, “It’s a piece of cake”


A job well done. - It was a piece of cake. Something satisfying in that. There’s always something satisfying in a piece of cake. Good, nourishing food, cake is particularly important in war time. While it differs from the cake you bought in pre-war days you’ll find it satisfying. 

End Quote

A Quick Thank You

Before we jump past the war efforts and into some more modern examples, I want to say thank you to our amazing Patrons. You keep us going week after week. It’s folks like Charlie, Emily, JGP, and Jan that make sure Bunny Trails stays free for everyone. And special thanks to Pat Rowe for her staunch support over the years, even as she battled cancer and the hardships surrounding it. And of course, thanks to our top patron, our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez.

If you’d like to join these great folks in supporting this education artform week after week, head over to bunnytrailspod on Patreon. That’s

Modern Uses

Let’s kick of some modern examples with this one out of:

Here’s an example from the 1980s, which may have led to more of the mental association between this phrase and WWII, a 1983 novel called Piece of Cake by Derek Robinson which follows a fictional Royal Air Force fighter squadron through the first year of World War II, and the Battle of Britain. It was later made into the 1988 television serial called Piece of Cake. 

And another time jump to the 1990s, out of The Stage, a weekly British newspaper based in London, dated 8 September 1994, with an opening line:


Getting married was a piece of cake for one well known theatrical couple recently

End Quote

The image shows a smiling couple Toni Palmer and Ken Hill standing over a wedding cake. 

Barenaked Ladies has a song called Piece of Cake off the 2015 album Silverball

The chorus goes…


It was piece of cake

But making cake's not easy

Sometimes the one you take

Can make a mess as we'll see

End Quote

Weezer also has a 2019 song called Piece of Cake, but it doesn’t have anything to do with our phrase so I’ll pretend like I didn’t mention it.

And there is a 2021 movie called Piece of Cake. Here’s the synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes


The tiny gnome-like Elfkins have lived in hiding for more than 200 years. After being dismissed by her fellow Elfkins one too many times, young Elfy (Madi Monroe) decides it's time to try and return to the human world. Joined by two reluctant Elkfin boys, Elfy meets Chef Theo (Sonny Hurrell), who is about to lose his bakery to his scheming brother. Remembering that once upon a time the Elkins used to help humans, Elfy and her friends decide to learn how to bake so they can save the pastry shop.

End Quote

If you are wondering, it hasn’t been rated enough times to have a score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Wrap up…

This one seems to have been coined by an American humorist, Ogden Nash, in the mid-1930s, but was likely popularized by a combination of Nash’s popularity and the spread of the phrase throughout the English speaking forces of the USA and Britain during WWII. And as we just heard, there is little reason to suspect this phrase will stop being popular in the near future.



That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website

It’s poll time!

Recently we asked our Patrons… if you won a million dollars (after applicable taxes) what strategy best describes what you'd do!

Most patrons said they would invest some of it and give some away to friends & family in need or charities. A few said they would pay off outstanding debts. And a couple mentioned they would spend some of it on fun things they would never usually buy. 

Interestingly, no one said they would quit their job. Not sure if everyone likes their job, or if everyone thinks a million dollars isn’t enough to quit your job in America. 

Based on the comments, I’d have to say the last one is at least partially a factor. 

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Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember, 

Words belong to their users. 

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