Lisa's week

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Lisa's week: Pie in the sky

Today I was reminded that we haven’t had an idiom of the week for a long time when someone asked what the English is for the German phrase “Das ist nicht das Gelbe vom Ei”. I had to admit that there isn’t really any specific expression in English, although you could use a negative form of one I’ve explained before, as in “that’s not really the bee’s knees”. Unlikely but possible!

Anyway, let’s take another idiom for now.

Pie in the sky

Example in use: “I’d love to be able to take two weeks off next month and fly away to the Bahamas for some sun, sand and sea. I did ask my boss but with the project hitting the critical phase right about that time, it’s just pie in the sky. I’ll have to wait until next year!”

Meaning: an unrealistic hope or a promise of a wished-for outcome, which is totally unlikely to occur

Possible German equivalent: unrealistischer Hoffnung

Possible origin: The origin of this idiom appears to be undisputed which makes a change!

It is taken from a folk song written by the Swedish-born, American activist Joe Hill in 1911, called “The Preacher and the Slave”.

You will eat, bye and bye,

In that glorious land above the sky;

Work and pray, live on hay,

You'll get pie in the sky when you die

Joe Hill was active in the Industrial Workers of the World movement and wrote many radical songs for them. The song was a parody of a Salvation Army hymn, “In the Sweet By and By” and “The Preacher and the Slave” was critical of the Salvation Army’s concentration on saving souls rather than providing food for the hungry.

However, the expression “pie in the sky” was not used idiomatically until World War II when it came to represent any future happiness, which was unlikely to happen.

I’m going to win the lottery on Saturday! Fact or just pie in the sky??

pie / paɪ


What is Lisa's week?

"We’ve (hopefully) been entertaining you so far with the meaning and background of a weekly English idiom and now we’ve decided to expand that a little to give me the chance to share some details that come my way in my daily life as a Business English teacher. I hope to find weekly tidbits of information and experience to tell you about such as British traditions that I (or we) celebrate, or typical mistakes made when speaking English, or even some of the funny things I come across in my daily life. We hope that you’ll enjoy the insight into the life of a Brit in Germany!"


Episode 1: The Queen's 90th birthday

Episode 2: What did you do last Sunday?

Episode 3: What's the best way to answer?

Episode 4: The sound of London

Episode 5: Not just a last resort

Episode 6: Quick tip of the week: advice vs. advise

Episode 7: Title talk

Episode 8: The Union Jack

Episode 9: Why Thursday?

Episode 10: Quick tip of the week - Are you watching or just looking?

Episode 11: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Episode 12: Don't forget to take you handy to the public viewing!

Episode 13: Up in the Highlands

Episode 14: Quick tip of the week - "Popular" false friends