Piece of cake?

2012-07-20 10:33



Piece of cake?

Reader question:

Please explain “piece of cake” in this sentence: This camp isn’t designed to run you into the ground, but it will not be a piece of cake either.

My comments:

To paraphrase, this camp is not very difficult – you won’t be so exhausted at the end of each day that you’d sink to the floor in a helpless heap – but it won’t be easy, either.

In other words, it won’t be a cake walk.

Indeed, “cake walk” and “piece of cake” have the same root in origin. As I wrote in Who Took the Cake (September 27, 2011), the “cake” is the winner’s prize for winning a dance competition.

In colonial times America, slaves do the walk (dance) at get-togethers for amusement and slave owners used to give out a large piece of cake to the winning couple. Over time, in conversation, winners of competitions are often said to have taken the cake.

Plus, as cakes are such a delightful item to eat – at least they were in the past, before a large portion of the populace become overweight and develop an aversion for anything fat and sweet – people also talk of easy delightful tasks as a piece of cake.

The idea being, let’s be clear about it, the cake is so delicious that it never is difficult for anyone to eat it – they’d gobble it up with pleasure in no time. Again, at least this was the case in the past. Today, so many people are overweight and are on diet that they may be aghast at the sight of a piece of cake.

That’s modernity kind of going astray, but nothing wrong with the cake. Anyways, figuratively speaking a piece of cake stands for an easy task. If, for example, winning a ping pong match is a piece of cake for you, it means that you’re so much superior to the opposition that you hardly break a sweat.

It means the same thing, of course, to say that winning the match is as easy as a cake walk.

In short, both American idioms are great to learn and put to use in conversation. Here are two relatively recent media examples:

1. When you hear the name Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao, the first thing you think is: Will he and Floyd “Money” Mayweather ever fight?

Pacquiao has a fight on Saturday November 12 vs. Juan Manuel Marquez. All this Mayweather talk needs to stop until this fight is over. Am I the only person who thinks Juan Manuel Marquez has a chance to beat Pacquiao?

I will remind you, these two have fought two 12-round blood fests that could have gone either way on the score cards. The first fight they fought to a draw, and the second Pacquiao won by a narrow split decision. This fight will not be a cake walk.

- Pacquiao vs. Marquez: Manny Pacquiao Upset by Juan Manuel Marquez? By George Wrighster, BleacherReport.com, November 11, 2011.

2. “I come with the wind, and I go with the wind” is a line that few dramatic actors could pull off without wincing, but it’s a piece of cake for Robert De Niro, whose hammier characters — in films like “Angel Heart” and “Analyze This” — have afforded him plenty of practice. Even so, it is the great good fortune of “Red Lights” that Mr. De Niro’s meteorological forecast appears closer to the end of the film than the beginning.

As Simon Silver, a blind psychic with Uri Geller-style spoon-bending abilities, Mr. De Niro is both the film’s red herring and its sinister centerpiece, a pulpy excuse for the plot’s supernatural excesses. Before Silver hijacks the plot, Rodrigo Cortés’s smart, talky screenplay and tense direction hold our attention, as much for the unpredictability of the story as the ease with which Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy slide into their roles. Playing a pair of skeptical scientists who investigate paranormal events, smugly debunking as they go, this ghostbusting team seems more than ready for prime time.

But just when they’re on the homestretch, their carefully nurtured science-versus-superstition quest is derailed by elaborate pyrotechnics and a bathroom brawl of such punishing realism that I feared for Mr. Murphy’s cheekbones. Until then Mr. Cortés (who made “Buried,” the highly effective, man-in-a-box thriller) and his photographer, Xavi Giménez, paint a darkly troubled world haunted by creepy street people and wily charlatans. They should have known that a levitating De Niro was simply a séance too far.

- Movie Review: Male Psychic Meets Female Ghostbusters, The New York Times, July 12, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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