Eating Humble Pie
The old expression eating humble pie remains alive and well in cyberspace:
From a father who had to cope with his wife’s duties when she was ill:
I am once again reminded of all the little things my wife manages so well and how I really should make a better effort not to take her for granted. Humble pie is definitely a dish I should eat on a regular basis.
From a sports fan:
And then we played Florida at Gainesville today and they beat us by the mercy rule with a score I am not going to report. Oh me. Oh my. Talk about eating humble pie. I am trying to digest it, but it does not taste good.
From the host of a website dedicated to some esoteric subject:
After a lengthy discussion with Peter Kriens and BJ Hargrave, I have to eat some humble pie and admit that I gave incorrect advice about concurrency in my latest OSGi book chapter.
The expression eating humble pie conflates two words:
humble – “not proud or haughty; ranking low in the social or political scale.” The word humble entered English c1250 by way of an Old French word that derived from L. humilis “lowly, humble,” lit. “on the ground,” from humus “earth.”
umbles – the “edible inner parts of an animal,” from Middle English numbles, “offal.” From the 17th century onward, recipes for “umble pie” appeared in cookbooks. Many people, usually the poorer sort, literally did eat umble pie.
During the 17th century scholars began messing with the pronunciation of English words beginning with the letter h. Up until then, the h in French borrowings, like humble, was silent. Initial h was pronounced in words that had been borrowed directly from Latin or Greek. Some scholars promoted the idea that the h should be pronounced in humble and other French borrowings. Not everyone went along with the “improvements.”
The expression to eat humble pie came into the language about 1850 with the sense of:
submission, apology, or retraction especially made under pressure or in humiliating circumstances
It’s a pun. The speaker or speakers with whom the expression originated had to pronounce umble and humble the same way for the pun to work. Eating umble pie was something that an upperclass person would not willingly do, just as a person who’d made an ass of himself would be unwilling to admit it and apologize for it.
Want to improve your English in 5 minutes a day? Click here to subscribe and start receiving our writing tips and exercises via email every day.
Recommended Articles for You
Subscribe to Receive our Articles and Exercises via Email
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!