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Which is it?

"You cannot eat your cake and have it, too," meaning you can have it or you can eat it, but once it's gone there's no cake left to eat.

"You cannot have your cake and eat it, too", meaning, as I understand it, you actually own the cake, so you can eat it if you want to.

A brief Google search suggests the second option is common usage (though I would argue misusage.)

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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There is absolutely no difference in meaning between the two orderings:

You cannot have your cake and eat it, too

You cannot eat your cake and have it, too

The meaning is simply that the cake cannot be both eaten and saved for later. The two options are mutually exclusive.

Neither are misworded, misordered or misused.

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5  
+1 for emphasizing that neither phrasing is incorrect. –  Marthaª Mar 30 '11 at 20:25
    
Double negative? Almost a question in itself ;) –  mplungjan Apr 27 '11 at 16:55
    
Were you talking to me or @Martha? –  MrHen Apr 27 '11 at 17:43

The phrase can be used with either order; it doesn't change the meaning, namely that once you've chewed and digested the cake, it has ceased to exist in any meaningful fashion, so you no longer have (as in own or possess) it. The ambiguity of the word "have" (which can also mean "eat") just adds a twist of humor of the "I shot an elephant in my pajamas" kind.

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The irony of the idiom is that one would expect to be able to eat the cake that he or she owned. In that case, possession of the cake would logically come before usage of the cake: You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.

Some other interesting observations:

Paul Brians, Professor of English at Washington State University, points out that perhaps a more logical or easier to understand version of this saying is: “You can’t eat your cake and have it too”. Professor Brians writes that a common source of confusion about this idiom stems from the verb to have which in this case indicates that once eaten, keeping possession of the cake is no longer possible, seeing that it is in your stomach (and no longer exists as a cake). Alternatively, the two verbs can be understood to represent a sequence of actions, so one can indeed "have" one's cake and then "eat" it. Consequently, the literal meaning of the reversed idiom doesn't match the metaphorical meaning.

From Wikipedia.

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It would appear Professor Brians agrees with my interpretation but I may be (and often am) wrong –  ChrisO Apr 9 '11 at 16:59

You cannot have your cake and eat it, too

means that you cannot keep your cake if you eat it.


PS: on a partially related note, the Italian version of this saying states that

You cannot have a full barrel and a drunken wife!

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1  
What if you have a barrel full of drunken wife? –  mfg Mar 30 '11 at 20:56
    
@mfg: That would be odd indeed! –  nico Mar 30 '11 at 21:04
    
+1 for the funny Italian equivalent –  Peter Olson Mar 30 '11 at 21:54

Both are correct; the second (way more common and methinks more euphonious) option has exactly the same meaning as the first, being that you cannot own the cake and get any use out of it as well. It's the same with money, for instance. The only thing that bothers me about this phrase is that it can be ambiguous to put have and cake so close together, since colloquially have cake is synonymous with eat cake.

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This saying specifically counts on the ambiguity of "have". It wouldn't be nearly as funny otherwise. –  Marthaª Apr 30 '11 at 14:03

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