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shameless pleading





Pie hole


Dear Word Detective: So why do we call mouths “pie holes” (as in “Shut your pie hole”)? Of all the foods we could have chosen, what is special about pie? I mean, I like pie and all, but not as much as … say, pastrami. In researching this on my own, I’ve been notified that “pie hole” is probably a variant of “cake hole,” a phrase that apparently was coined in England sometime around World War II (also used in the context of “shut your cake hole”). And “cake” might be a corruption of “ceg,” Welsh for mouth. Is this etymology correct? Or did “pie hole” originate from some completely other source? — James Takahashi.

Mmmm … cake. You can keep your pastrami, and the rye it rode in on. I’d be happy to live out my days on a diet of cake and pizza. I am especially fond of the classic wedding cake, but it’s hard to find except at weddings. Incidentally, is it wrong to encourage your friends to divorce and remarry just so you can get some decent cake? Oh well, too late now.

Somehow I seem incapable of hearing the words “pie hole” without thinking of the classic exchange between Homer Simpson and Moe the bartender: Homer: Hmm. I wonder why he’s so eager to go to the garage? Moe: The “garage”? Hey fellas, the “garage”! Well, ooh la di da, Mr. French Man. Homer: Well, what do you call it? Moe: A car hole!

I must say that although I’ve heard the expressions “pie hole” and “cake hole” in several movies (I have a dim memory of Bruce Willis saying “pie hole” in something forgettable), I don’t think I’ve ever heard either phrase used in casual conversation, but both apparently have been for quite a while. “Cake hole” is the older, dating back to British armed services use in 1943. The earliest printed citation we have for “pie hole,” however, is only from 1983, although it was probably in use for at least a few years before then. “Pie hole” was clearly inspired by “cake hole,” the substitution made perhaps because pie, especially apple, has long been considered a typical American dessert.

As slang for “mouth,” both phrases exhibit the sort of cheerful bluntness and vulgarity common to armed services and working-class slang, “Shut your cake hole” being far more colorful (and, given the humorous element, perhaps less confrontational) than simply saying “Shut your mouth.”

As for the possible Welsh connection, “ceg” does indeed mean “mouth” in Welsh, but the resemblance to “cake” is almost certainly simply coincidental. Among other things, “ceg hole” would be a bit redundant, and there is no record of such a phrase ever being used.

15 comments to Pie hole

  • Joe

    “Pie hole” may not originally had anything to do with the mouth eating cake or pie or pastrami. It may refer to the whole in the cnter of a fruit pie to allow steam to vent.

  • Lyn

    A “pie hole” is a chimney like device, often in the shape of a goose neck, that one inserts into the centre of a pie prior to baking it. It is ceramic and has a hole in it, allowing steam to escape from the pie when it is cooking. We were served a large home made meat pie tonight at dinner, with a pie hole in it.

  • Pudding

    Haha, I always thought it was from a guy got in a fight with a fat guy, and the fat guy talked too much, and the skinny guy said, shut your pie hole, cause he was so fat and ate pie a lot…my thinkning is flawed…lol.

  • Andrea Peace

    We were discussing how Altoids mints insert said “open your mint hole” which then led to the discussion about pie hole, landing us here. Thanks for an informative article. Boo to the candymaker who is trying change perfectly good slang into their marketing slogan.

  • kathleen

    i think the phrase pie hole is very funny i think its best use is when someone says shut your pie hole

  • Matthew

    you really didn’t answer the question. you really didn’t do anything but fill up the page with words.

  • sdf

    “cake hole” is as artifical as “freedom fries”

  • Jlf

    Would you not think your mouth is the “hole” where you put your pie?

    Homer Simpson would indeed call it so as he did call the garage the car hole.

    Nevertheless think about that”shut your” portion.

    Do we not try to teach our children how not to be rude?

    So much for the decline of manners
    And the rise of disrespect
    Just look at the caliber of tv shows
    What a jolt in reality!

  • Norm

    Lyn said “A “pie hole” is a chimney like device, often in the shape of a goose neck, that one inserts into the centre of a pie prior to baking it. It is ceramic and has a hole in it, allowing steam to escape from the pie when it is cooking. We were served a large home made meat pie tonight at dinner, with a pie hole in it.”

    What happens if you close the pie hole — does the pie explode? Maybe that is the intent…basically telling the person to plug the hole and that would result in pie in their face! Or, perhaps, a suggestion that the pie hole is in them and by shutting it they would explode. Now that is a Homer graphic image!

  • HoneyBadger

    Time is precious. I admit I say “Shut your pie hole” when I’ve heard enough claptrap from someone. And since I prefer pie over cake…

  • ray

    NYC term. Originated from ‘cake’ in ww2. When airman came back home,,, it changed to pie. As in pizza pie.

  • corrie

    Actually Norm, it kind of does. When the contents of the pie start heating, of course they expand. If there is no way for steam to escape, often the upper & lower crusts will separate somewhere along the edge, resulting in hot syrupy pie filling dripping out and burning on the bottom of the oven. Any pie I’ve ever seen or made has had some slashes or cutouts in the upper crust to prevent this. Have never heard the little ceramic “pie hole” called that; have only seen it referred to as a “pie bird”, which is often it’s shape.

  • Anonymous

    My 90-year-old mother submits the notion that the pie hole or pie bird blows off steam, therefore shutting one’s pie hole means to stop blowing off one’s steam.

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