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Does the phrase/proverb "having your cake and eating it too" imply hypocrisy?

Does it have the same connotation as "Rules for thee, not for me"?

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    I must say, a native Am Eng speaker, I've never liked this proverb, because "have" your cake is so ambiguous. I guess you can't possess and consume something, because once you consume it you no longer "have" it. But this is confusing because "have" is idiomatic for "eat" -- so it seems to be saying "you can't eat your cake and eat your cake" -- nonsense.
    – user8356
    Commented Jul 10 at 14:52
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    Have you looked it up before posting?
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 10 at 15:56
  • @Lambie Yes I did, on ChatGPT. it said that "cake" proverb could go both ways.
    – Max
    Commented Jul 10 at 16:36
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    @Max What makes you think that ChatGPT is any sort of authority? Don't bother quoting ChatGPT's answer to that one... Commented 2 days ago
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    @user8356 I've also found it confusing. For a long time I thought it meant you couldn't eat the cake twice. Which is true, but not very profound.
    – Barmar
    Commented 2 days ago

5 Answers 5

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You can't have your cake and eat it (too) just means

... one cannot have two incompatible things ... one should not try to have more than is reasonable ... you can't have it both ways ... you can't have the best of both worlds

There’s no inherent implication of hypocrisy or connotation of rules for thee, not for me. We can use it to inform someone the truth without any of these two implications.

One example from VOA goes

... a friend of mine loves to read so she got a job at a library. Now, she reads all day long and gets paid! Talk about having your cake and eating it too!

As in many other structures, this one can also have words built around it to send a message containing hypocrisy.

It all depends on how we word the overall.

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Two ways to use the idiom.
This idiom can be used in a positive or negative connotation:

Ref. Cambridge dictionary
have your cake and eat it too.
idiom.
to do or get two good things at the same time, esp. things that are not usually possible to have together:
I worked at home so I could raise my family and still earn money – I guess I wanted to have my cake and eat it too.

OP had asked

As the title states, does the phrase/proverb having your cake and eating it too imply hypocrisy?

Consider the following example:

Ref. VOA Learning English
In the negative, it means you cannot have or do two things at the same time that are impossible to have or do at the same time. You must decide which one you want because you can't have both. In other words, you cannot have two conflicting things. For example, let’s say your friend is complaining about the amount of taxes he pays. But at the same time, he complains about the lack of services the city provides. You could say to him, “Look, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Better services cost money.”

Yes, when used in a negative context, it suggests hypocrisy. As in the above case, the friend complains about the services but is unwilling to pay for them.

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  • Could it also mean "heads I win, tails you lose"?
    – Max
    Commented Jul 10 at 16:38
  • @Max That phrase is more of an intentional trickery or wordplay - the speaker "wins" either way. This is not hypocrisy. Commented Jul 10 at 18:03
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    I'm not seeing any hypocrisy in the example you've quoted. A similar, tax-related, example of hypocrisy might be your friend says, "The city needs to provide better services and so everyone needs to support the new tax bill", but then the friend votes against the tax bill. The behavior in the quoted example shows ignorance, which is what makes can't have your cake... an appropriate response. It's pointing out the incompatibility that the friend seems to have ignored. I wouldn't count ignorance as a kind of hypocrisy.
    – Juhasz
    Commented Jul 10 at 19:03
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    @Juhasz If you want the government to spend more money on stuff, but you don't want to give it more money, that's inconsistent or hypocritical. But of course the tax system is more complex than that, and one might feel that rich people should be taxed more, the government should spend less on some other things, etc., in which case it's possible for the above positions to be compatible. (Your example doesn't seem to fit the cake expression, because while it might be hypocrisy, there aren't two conflicting things being pursued there.)
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jul 11 at 4:52
  • @NotThatGuy You can many different situations in which the expression is used including this one. It is taken from Voice of America website. Commented Jul 11 at 5:14
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Not inherently - that is to say, it isn't what the idiom means. But a context could arise where it is said about a hypocritical person.

A hypocrite is one who claims to be something they are not, or one who stands for/believes in something they do not.

At face value, "you can't have your cake and eat it" means that one cannot enjoy two mutually exclusive things. It's an odd saying, because literally possessing a cake doesn't normally exclude one from eating it, but apparently, it is meant to be considered in reverse - you can't eat a cake and then still possess it.

However, we say that something "can't" be done for two differing reasons - firstly to infer that something is impossible (eg "humans can't breathe underwater"), and secondly to mean something shouldn't be done (eg "you can't walk on the grass").

So, in a scenario where someone is being hypocritical - saying one thing but doing another, you could legitimately say to them that they can't (shouldn't) have their cake and eat it, to mean that they should not say one thing but do another.

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  • literally possessing a cake doesn't normally exclude one from eating it I would say it does, because if you have it, then you clearly haven't (yet) eaten it. Commented Jul 10 at 17:37
  • @JohnGordon so how would you interpret "you can't own a car and drive it"?
    – Astralbee
    Commented Jul 10 at 18:04
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    The two situations are not the same -- a car is not consumed when it is driven, but a cake is consumed when it is eaten. So, I would interpret "you can't own a car and drive it" as nonsense. Commented Jul 10 at 18:05
  • Are you able to offer an example of the scenario described in the final paragraph of your answer? The phrases I'm able to come up with that context sound wrong.
    – Brian
    Commented Jul 10 at 18:08
  • @Brian How about a politician who runs a campaign against pollution, but nobody takes him seriously because he is also the biggest shareholder in a company that is one of the worst polluters in his country? He's a hypocrite, right? And he holds two positions which are incompatible. He either needs to disassociate himself from the polluting organisation in order to make his position tenable, or else he needs to drop his anti-pollution stance. He can't have his cake and eat it.
    – Astralbee
    Commented 2 days ago
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Maybe it does, but in a very, very tangential manner. There are better idioms/expressions to indicate hypocrisy. To have your cake and eat it too means you don't want to give up your beautiful cake and you want to eat it too. It's used in situations where people are being greedy or uncompromising.

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If this is to refer to Christian life and god, then our cake could be gods blessing that we received when we know him. That is the gift god gives to us. Now that is the benefit that god wants for us. He has not given another gift or he has not given permission for us to make it into another gift thus benefitting without god-we create our own source of income off of gods initial gift-that is eating it too.

Your cake-that is the gift from god-the blessing of relationship-grace is enough Eating it too-a secondary benefit caused by our personal action not initiated by god.

I think if god has blessed us then we should just accept the blessing and thank him-end of story. If we decide to sell that benefit then we may be polluting the initial gift with our profiteering.

Selling god is a sad practise of Christians today and one that god may not appreciate.

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    This is interesting theological commentary, but probably doesn't help an English language learner understand the idiom "have your cake and eat it too".
    – Juhasz
    Commented Jul 10 at 19:15
  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jul 10 at 21:02
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    Hello, I see you've also joined Biblical Hermeneutics SE. Could it be that from there you found a link to this question (it is indeed a hot network question, that is, it may appear on the right side) and came here without realizing that this is a different site? If that is the case, I suggest to delete your answer. Commented 2 days ago

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