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impossible desire


cakeism = der Wunsch, zwei wünschenswerte, aber unvereinbare Alternativen zu genießen



“Perhaps no leader could have shown unwavering leadership at this time, but his (Rishi Sunak’s) bad decisions in week one hardly suggest the ‘future full of opportunity’ or the ‘new age of optimism’ he promised …. He pledges rashly to keep to Johnson’s 2019 manifesto, despite surely knowing that CAKEISM was always a delusion.”

Polly Toynbee - The Guardian (1st November 2022)

Did you

noun (informal)

- a wish to enjoy two desirable but incompatible alternatives

Collins Dictionary


The word cakeism is based on the well-known English phrase “Have your cake and eat it”, which describes the situation of having two good things at the same time, when in reality, having one of these things should preclude having the other.

It all started in the Autumn of 2016, when in the context of Brexit negotiations the then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson flippantly declared: “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it.”

Adapted from MacMillan Dictionary


Somewhat ironically, one reason cakeism may have taken hold in the Brexit debate is that “Having your cake and eating it” cuts across cultural boundaries and has equivalents in other European languages:

- Danish = “Man kan ikke både blæse og have mel i munden” (You can’t blow and have flour in your mouth)

- French = “Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre” (To want the butter and the money from the butter)

- German = “Man kann nicht auf zwei Hochzeiten gleichzeitig tanzen” (You can’t dance at two weddings at the same time)

- Italian = “Non puoi avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca” (You can’t have the barrel full and the wife drunk)

- Polish = “Wilk syty i owca cała” (The wolf is full and the lamb whole)

- Portuguese = “Querer sol na eira e chuva no nabal” (To want sunshine on the floor while it rains on the turnip field)

- Spanish = “No se puede estar en misa y repicando” (You can’t be at mass and ringing bells)


- a belief that wishes become reality; the unrealistic belief in or pursuit of perfection

air castle, airy hope, castle in Spain, castle(s) in the air (in the sky/skies, in Spain), cloud-cuckoo-land, daydream, eggs in moonshine, empty wish, false belief (hope), fanciful notion, flight of fancy, fond hope(s), fond illusion, fool’s paradise, foolish expectation, head trip, irrational expectation, jam tomorrow, lapse, make-believe, mistaken belief (idea, impression), pie in the sky, pipe dream, stardust, trip, unreal hope, unrealistic expectation (goal, hope), unrealizable dream

SMUGGLE OWAD into an English conversation, say something like:

“For some people, CAKEISM is a reality… virtual meetings offer the best of both worlds, comfortable home working without needing to battle to the office.”

HERZLICHEN DANK to all readers helping me keep OWAD alive with single or monthly donations at:


Paul Smith, IBAN: DE75 7316 0000 0002 5477 40

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