You can't have your cake and eat it
You can't have your cake and eat it (too) is a popular English idiomatic figure of speech.
Say you're a child having a birthday party and all your friends are there having a good time, but when it comes time to cut the cake you'd prefer the whole thing to your self. Once you've eaten the cake it is gone; this causes conflict due to the selfishness in wanting all of it but, at the same time, wanting your friends to enjoy the party. The phrase can be used to say that one should not have more than is deserved or should not get into situations that are more than one can handle.
The phrase is similar to the idea that you can't have it both ways or that you can't get the best of both worlds.
The phrase occurs with the clauses reversed in John Heywood's "A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue" from 1546, as "wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?". In John Davies' "Scourge of Folly" of 1611, the same order is used, as "A man cannot eat his cake and haue it stil." In Jonathan Swift's 1738 farce "Polite Conversation", the character Lady Answerall says "she cannot eat her cake and have her cake."
The order was reversed again in a posthumous adaptation of "Polite Conversation" in 1749, "Tittle Tattle; or, Taste A-la-Mode", as "And she cannot have her Cake and eat her Cake." From 1812 (R. C. Knopf's "Document Transcriptions of War of 1812" (1959) VI. 204) is a modern-sounding recording as "We cannot have our cake and eat it too."
Paul Brians, Professor of English at Washington State University, points out that perhaps a more logical or easier to understand version of this saying is, "You can’t eat your cake and have it too." Professor Brians writes that a common source of confusion about this idiom stems from the verb to have which in this case indicates that once eaten, keeping possession of the cake is no longer possible, seeing that it is in your stomach (and no longer exists as a cake).
Alternatively, the two verbs can be understood to represent a sequence of actions, so one can indeed "have" one's cake and then "eat" it. Consequently, the literal meaning of the reversed idiom doesn't match the metaphorical meaning. The phrase can also have specialized meaning in academic contexts; Classicist Katharina Volk of Columbia University has used the phrase to describe the development of poetic imagery in Latin didactic poetry, naming the principle behind the imagery's adoption and application the "have-one's-cake-and-eat-it-too principle".
In English, "have" can mean "eat", as in "Let's have breakfast" or "I'm having a sandwich". So the saying "You can't have your cake and eat it too" may mean that you can't eat the cake and then eat it again; or less metaphorically, that what you want is unreasonable. This interpretation makes sense in both the "have-eat" and "eat-have" iterations of the idiom, and explains why the earliest known iteration is "have-eat".[original research?]
Various expressions are used to convey similar idioms in other languages:
- Albanian: (Te hysh ne uje e te mos lagesh) – To take a swim and not get wet.
- Bosnian: Ne možeš imati i jare i pare. You can't have both the lamb and the money.
- Chinese: 鱼与熊掌，不可兼得。You can't have both the fish and the bear's paw. (Bear's paw is considered a delicacy in ancient China.)
- Croatian: Ne možeš imati i ovce i novce – You can't have both the sheep (pl.) and the money. Also, Vuk sit, ovce na broju – The wolf is full, the sheep are all accounted for.
- Danish: Man kan ikke både blæse og have mel i munden – You cannot both blow and have flour in your mouth. Or Danish: Man kan ikke få både i pose og (i) sæk - You can't get both in bag and (in) sack.
- Dutch: Je moet kiezen of delen – You have to choose or partition. This is based on Dutch civil law where in a division of property one person divides the property in two parts and the other person chooses the part he likes most.
- French: Vouloir le beurre et l'argent du beurre – to want the butter and the money from (selling) the butter. The idiom can be emphasized by adding et le sourire de la crémière ("and the smile of the (female) buttermaker"). In familiar context, "the smile" can be replaced by "the daughter" (et la fille de la crémière). In vulgar context, "the smile" is often replaced by "the ass" (et le cul de la crémière).
- German: Wasch mir den Pelz, aber mach mich nicht nass – wash my fur but don't get me wet.   Also, Man kann nicht auf zwei Hochzeiten tanzen – one cannot dance at two weddings (at the same time).
- Swiss German: Du chasch nit dr Füfer und s Weggli ha – you can't have the five cent coin and a bread roll.
- Greek: Και την πίτα ολόκληρη και τον σκύλο χορτάτο – you want the entire pie and the dog full.
- Gujarati: બે હાથમાં લાડુ હોવા - having Laddu in both your hands.
- Hebrew: אי אפשר לאכול את העוגה ולהשאיר אותה שלמה – you can't eat the cake and keep it whole.
- Hungarian: Olyan nincs, hogy a kecske is jól lakjon, és a káposzta is megmaradjon – It is impossible that the goat has enough to eat and the cabbage remains as well. Also, Egy fenékkel nem lehet két lovat megülni – It is impossible to ride two horses with one butt. (The meaning is similar to the Romanian translation.)
- Icelandic: Það er ekki hægt að bæði halda og sleppa - You can't have and have not at the same time. Also: Bágt er að blása og hafa mjöl í munni. – You cannot both blow and have flour in your mouth.
- Italian: Avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca – to have the barrel full and the wife drunk.
- Kannada: ಅಕ್ಕಿ ಮೇಲೆ ಆಸೆ, ನೆಂಟರ ಮೇಲೆ ಪ್ರೀತಿ – Desire over rice, love over relatives.
- Malayalam: കക്ഷത്തിലുള്ളത് പോകാനും പാടില്ല ഉത്തരത്തിലുള്ളത് വേണം താനും! – You want both the one on the roof, and the one in your armpit.
- Nepali: दुवै हातमा लड्डु – having laddu (a sweet candy) in both your hands.
- Norwegian: Man kan ikke få både i pose og sekk – You can't get both in bag and sack.
- Papiamento: Skohe of lag'i skohe – choose or let choose.
- Pashto: Dawara ghaaray ma wahaa – You can not be on both sides.
- Persian: هم خدا را خواستن و هم خرما را – wanting both God and the sugar-dates.
- Polish: Zjeść ciastko i mieć ciastko – To eat the cookie and have the cookie.
- Portuguese: Querer ter sol na eira e chuva no nabal – Wanting the sun to shine on the threshing floor, while it rains on the turnip field.
- Brazil: tentar assobiar e chupar cana – Trying to whistle while chewing on sugar cane.
- Romanian: Nu poți împăca și capra și varza – You can't reconcile the goat and the cabbage. Also, Și cu tigaia unsă și cu slănina în pod - To have the pan greased and the lard in the attic (or the more vulgar version: Şi cu dânsa-ntr-însa, şi cu sufletu-n rai - To have 'it' in 'it' and the soul in heaven.)
- Russian: И рыбку съесть, и в воду не лезть – wanting to eat a fish without first catching it from the waters.
- Serbian: Не можеш да имаш и јаре и паре – You can't have both goatling and money, and Не можеш сести с једним дупетом на две столице – You can't sit on two chairs with one butt.
- Spanish: Querer estar en Misa y en procesión – wishing to be both at Mass and in the procession, and estar en Misa y repicando (or estar en Misa y tocar la campana – to be both at Mass and in the belfry, bell-ringing. estar en el plato y a las tajadas.
- Argentina: la chancha y los veinte – the pig and the twenties. (Comes from the old piggybanks for children that used to contain coins of 20 cents. The only way to get the coins was to break the piggybank open – hence the phrase. This can be emphasized by adding y la máquina de hacer chorizos – and the machine to make sausage.
- Swedish: Att äta kakan och ha den kvar - To eat the cookie and still have it.
- Tamil: மீசைக்கும் ஆசை கூழுக்கும் ஆசை – desire to have both the moustache and to drink the soup.
- Turkish: Ne yardan geçer, ne serden. – Neither giving up one's lover nor one's self.
- Vietnamese: Bắt cá hai tay. – You catch fish with two hands.
- Welsh: Allwch chi mo’i chael hi bob ffordd. – You can’t have it every way. Also, Allwch chi ddim cadw torth a’i bwyta hi - You can’t keep a loaf and eat it.
- "Language Log: Forensic linguistics, the Unabomber, and the etymological fallacy". Retrieved 2013-05-20.
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 1: January-July 1538 (p. 189 ref. 504). Institute of Historical Research ("Sponsor"). Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "cake". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Shapiro, Fred R (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. ISBN 9780300107982. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Swift, Jonathan (1841). The Works of Jonathan Swift ...: Containing interesting and valuable papers. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Timothy Fribble (Pseud.), Jonathan Swift (1749). Tittle Tattle. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "Have Your Cake and Eat It Too". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-08-25.
- "Eat/Have, Have/Eat Your Cake!". ABLE Innovations Blog. Retrieved 2012-08-25.
- Speake, Jennifer (2008). " Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. ISBN 9780199539536. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Graph at Google Ngram Viewer
- Common Errors in English: Eat Cake. Washington State University. Retrieved 2008-03-26.
- Katharina Volk, The Poetics of Latin Didactic. Lucretius, Vergil, Ovid, Manilius. Retrieved 2009-06-05.
- This is a euphemism for a common vulgar expression и рыбку съесть, и на хуй сесть first used by Alexander Pushkin in a private letter.
- Griffiths, Bruce; Jones, Dafydd Glyn (1995). Geiriadur yr Academi: The Welsh Academy English–Welsh Dictionary. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 191. ISBN 0708311865.