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The Language of Pie

The Language of Pie

Pies have been around a long time, and so have we...

We have been eating pies for centuries, so it’s no surprise that they have not only foraged their way into our culinary hearts but also into our love of and need for communication.

Much like our rich and varied language, pies have evolved over time. The blackbird-encased pies of old which were presented as lavish centre pieces are now much more modest in size and filling, yet still we love a good traditional pie much like we love a natter.

Pies have journeyed with us in tongue and stomach to become as important in our everyday language needs as they are on our plate.

We have selected three of the most popular ‘pie idioms’ which have firmly embedded themselves into our common use of language, to give you a brief history of the language of pie.


As Nice As Pie

This can be traced back to a title called Which: Right or Left? published by Garrett and Company in 1855 with the extract:

"For nearly a week afterwards, the domestics observed significantly to each other, that Miss Isabella was as nice as pie".

Mark Twain in his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) frequently compared pleasant behaviours to pie with such phrases as, “you’re always as polite as pie to them” and "So he took him to his own house, and dressed him up clean and nice,... and was just old pie to him, so to speak."

‘As nice as pie’ reflects the pie as being accommodating, dependable and well…nice. But there is another popular phrase which presents the pie as being unattainable, so wonderful that it is out of reach. Its etymology is a political one and was first used in a song by a Swedish born labourer who moved to America in 1902, called Joe Hill.

The song was called The Preacher and the Slave, and the phrase is ‘Pie in the Sky

The song was written for labour organisation, The Industrial Workers of the World and made a point of highlighting that salvation of the soul was of little consequence if the living were starving.

“From the day of your birth

 it's bread and water here on earth
To a child of life to a child of life
But there'll be pie in the sky by and by when I die

and it'll be alright it'll be alright
There'll be pie in the sky by and by when I die

and it'll be alright it'll be alright.”


A rather humbling take on salvation theology. Which brings us neatly to our final one which has rather unappetising origins.

It is of course ‘humble pie’.

The phrase comes from the organs and innards of animals, usually deer. These innards were known as ‘numbles’ which derived from an Old French word ‘nombles’ which evolved from the Latin for little loin, ‘lumbulus’.

Numbles were widely eaten in days gone. Many of our words for meat come from French so that the servants and huntsmen could be separated from the wealthy and noble. For example, cow is an Old English word, but beef comes from the Old French word, buef which is now boeuf. The wealthy and noble spoke French. Having different words for animals to the meat they produced was a matter of hierarchical distinction.

Therefore the ‘numbles’ or the less-appealing parts were eaten by those who supplied/cooked/served the meat while the meat itself was eaten by the rich, and one way of cooking them was to throw them all in a pie and bake them.

It is possible that numble pie became umble pie because ‘ a numble pie’ was mistaken for ‘an umble pie’ which was generally easier to pronounce.

So don’t eat ‘umble’ pie, eat Yorkshire Handmade Pies where you’re guaranteed nothing but simply the best ingredients, all encased in delectable pastry!