Quotes Uncovered: Time, Money, and Cake

A while back, I invited readers to submit quotations for which they wanted me to try to trace the origins, using The Yale Book of Quotations and more recent research by me. Hundreds of people have responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, a few per week.

Quotes Uncovered

75 ThumbnailHere are more quote authors and origins Shapiro’s tracked down recently.

Marc Anthony asked:

“You can’t make your cake and eat it too,” refers to having everything work your way. Please research. This is a ridiculously clichéd quote. I made the cake. I will eat the cake.

The Yale Book of Quotations, which attempts to trace all famous quotations to their accurate origins, has the following:

At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, “Then let them eat cake.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions (1782).

The words “let them eat cake” are usually attributed to Marie-Antoinette, but the Rousseau usage, written in 1766 to 1767, before she had even arrived in France, makes it clear that the saying predated this famous queen.

David asked:

How about, “This too shall pass”?

The YBQ quotes Edward FitzGerald, Polonius: A Collection of Wise Saws and Modern Instances (1852):

The Sultan asked for a Signet motto, that should hold good for Adversity or Prospertiy. Solomon gave him, “This also shall pass away.”

Science Minded asked:

“Time is money” and “A penny saved is a penny earned.” The first two are Benjamin Franklin — I would imagine this last one is his too: “Haste makes waste.”

The first one is from Franklin, but not the others. Thomas Fuller, in The Worthies of England (1662) wrote “a penny saved is a penny gained.” John Heywood included “Haste makes waste” in Dialogue of Proverbs (1546).

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

Addendum: I did this week’s posting hastily and confused the two “cake” quotations. I’ll answer Marc Anthony’s actual question next week.

Arnold B

I recall the expression is that "you can't HAVE your cake and eat it too." I've always taken that to mean that you can't both keep this valuable thing and consume it. Substituting make for have makes no sense to me.

Michael Curtin

I suspect that Mr. Anthony was referring to "You can't HAVE your cake and eat it too" (emphasis added). I've always taken it to mean that certain alternatives are mutually exclusive, perhaps at any point in time or where choosing one makes the other impossible. Wikipedia attributes an early form to John Heywood, circa 1546. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Have_your_cake_and_eat_it_too


From "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman:
"You can't have your cake and eat it too -- One can't use something up and still have it to enjoy. This proverb was recorded in the book of proverbs by John Heywood in 1546, and is first attested in the United States in the 1742 'Colonial Records of Georgia' in 'Original Papers, 1735-1752.' The adage is found in varying forms: You can't eat your cake and have it too. You can't have everything and eat it too; Eat your cake and have the crumbs in bed with you, etc. ..."

Econ geek

The phrase is "You can't have your cake and eat it too" meaning you have to choose between savings and consumption (obvious to everyone here, I'm sure). You're right, the way you heard it is absurd


I thought it was "You can't have your cake and eat it too." According to Wikipedia, that's from 1546, as "wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?"

Neil Friedman

Please research these quotes.
"A bad decision made in time is better than a good decision made too late"

"The fastest way to make enemys is to force change"


I've always heard the first quote as "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." I don't know the origin, but I always imagine being presented with an elaborate dessert and facing the inevitable choice between preserving its aesthetic beauty and digging a knife in for that first delicious bite. In other words, you can't have it both ways.

I don't immediately see the connection between this and "Let them eat cake," the callous remark of a spoiled princess.


I don't think Marc Anthony's question was answered - he misremembered the phrase, but I'm pretty sure he was asking about "You can't have your cake and eat it too" meaning that there is no way to both eat your cake now and keep it for later


Thanks for including mine!


Isn't the expression "You can't have your cake and eat it too"? Obviously you can make it and eat it, but you can't eat it and still have it. Also, your response doesn't seem to have much to do with the question asked. Weird.


It's actually supposed to be 'You can't eat your cake and have it too'. It's probably one of the most misquoted idioms ever. If you read it that way, you'll see it makes a lot more sense - you can't eat your cake and then still have it too!

Isaac K.

Everyone is talking about cake, but the quote "This too, shall pass" is much older than the one recorded.
It occurs in Jewish literature and is attributed as a task Solomon himself gave to one of his subjects.
Since the story far predates Edward Fitzgerald, (and occurs in the Talmud), the person from whom it originated probably cannot be determined, but it must be at least from the first few centuries AD.


Yes but you can halve your cake & eat it too.


How about - it's better to ask forgiveness than permission.


What about "the proof is in the pudding". Some say it was Cervantez' Don Quixote, but others disagree.


I thought "this too shall pass " was a teaching of the Buddha?


It is not “Then let them eat cake” but “Then let them eat brioche”.

Joe Pineapples

In the UK it's common form is the rather confusing "you can't have your cake and eat it" omitting the too…

I agree with Kevin that the more logical form is "You can't eat you cake and [still] have it". Which makes perfect sense.

Familiarity breeds understanding though… as in the similarly convoluted expression "believe you me" which defies analysis… a least to my poor, weak befuddled brain.


Hey Neil, your "a bad decision made in time is better than a good decision made too late" sounds like a Dilbertism.

Along the same lines of "a little in time is better than a lot too late," I always like this quote from Timur, aka Tamerlane:

"It is better to be on hand with 10 men than to be absent with 10,000."


@Jesse - I think the quote it more like "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission."