Eating Humble Pie: Sucking it Up & Eating… Guts

Hello all!

Humility- it’s a good thing.

Merriam Webster defines humility as: the quality or state of not thinking you are better than  other people

If you’re showing humility, you’re being humble, & that brings us to the phrase this week: “Eat your humble pie.” We say this when talking about conceding defeat, without being mad or implying that you’re better than the person who beat you. It basically means being a good sport about losing something.

Wait, wait, wait. Humility isn’t tangible, so why do we eat it & why does it come in pie form?

Well, it’s very interesting, but in order to tell you, I need to send you back to the Fourteenth Century.

Put yourself in Medieval England. You’re poor & you work for the local noble family, in exchange for the right to live on their land. Your days are long & filled with manual labor, & most evenings are spent in your small house, eating your ration of the harvest & whatever else you may have saved or canned. It’s a pretty rough life, but every so often you get to experience a taste of the high life.

From time to time, your landlord opens his manor to everyone living on his land. He’s just gotten back from a hunting trip & wants to celebrate his catch. You get to rub shoulders with the local celebrities for a day, right through dinner. It’ll be a great time, as there’s plenty of food & alcohol & everyone gets to party.

Speaking of dinner, this one’s bound to be awesome. The family’s top chefs are going to cook up the meat & serve it to everyone. What a generous landlord! You watch as an amazing cut is presented to him(He gets the first bite. It’s only fair; it’s his house). Your mouth is watering already; it’s bound to be delicious.

Not so fast. You’re a peasant, remember? Yeah, this is feudalism, which is fueled by social class & status. You’re nothing to this guy & the dinner is just a formality. If he doesn’t invite you, he’ll look badly in front of his rich guests.

So, what’s on your menu? One thing: nombles. These are nothing more than the entrails of the hunted animal, which are cooked & presented to you in a pie. Yeah, that’s right, the lord eats steak, while you eat the bag from the inside of the Thanksgiving turkey. Don’t worry, it’s baked in a sweet flaky crust. Feel better? I didn’t think so.

This is how it went for about one hundred years, & by the Fifteenth century, the word “nombles” had evolved into “umble.” According to James Fratter’s article, “10 Misconceptions About Common Sayings,” nomble pie suffered from what etymologists like to call metanalysis, or rebracketing. This is the breaking down of a word into parts which aren’t quite the same as what was originally intended & it’s all because of pronunciation. Since the uniformity of English wasn’t well known to the peasants, common objects such as “a napron” changed to become what we know as “an apron.” For the same reasons, “a nomble pie” became spelled “an umble pie.” Over time, because of certain English accents which don’t pronounce the letter H, umble’s spelling became humble & stuck. Those dialects which do pronounce H, naturally, well, pronounced it.

So, there it is, folks. It’s a long & complicated evolution of spelling & pronunciation of a phrase which very literally meant, “Let the cool rich people eat their delicious food, while you field workers get to sit in the corner with the scraps.  I’d better not hear you complain about it.” So, the next time feel ashamed about eating your humble pie because you lost an argument, just remember, you could be eating an animal-guts pie. Admitting you’re wrong doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

Well, that’s it for today. Now you know; you’re welcome.



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