To eat humble pie
Example in use: “She was showing off about how good her department’s sales figures were but I heard that the Sales Manager admitted that they had been exaggerated. She’s got to eat humble pie now!”
Meaning: to admit or apologise that you were wrong or that you have been caught out in a lie or exaggeration
Possible German equivalent: klein beigeben
Possible origin: There is confusion today about the origin of this expression but there is some agreement that it might derive from the concept of a real pie that used to be eaten in the Middle Ages.
In those days, the inner organs of a deer – the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs etc. – used to be called “numbles”, which originated from the French word “nomble” which in turn appears to come from a Latin word! European languages often take these twists and turns through the centuries which can be very confusing!
However, these parts of the animals were often put into “numble pies” and over time, they became “umble pies”. In 1662, the famous British writer Samuel Pepys referred to:
“I having some venison given me a day or two ago, and so I had a shoulder roasted, another baked, and the umbles baked in a pie, and all very well done.
There is some discussion about whether or not these pies were given to the servants or lower status (humble) people present at a hunt while the good meat – the venison – was served to the higher ranking Lords and Gentlemen but the principle of “umble pie” certainly seems to be common at the time.
The practice of adding and dropping letters at the beginning of words is well known in English, especially words beginning with ‘n’ and ‘h’, so this could be how “numble” moved to “umble” and then “humble” in this expression. Regional accents also often add or drop letters so this could be another reason for the different spelling in different references for this idiom over the years. Today of course, the word “humble” means modest or not proud which supports the idea that you have to eat humble pie if you have been caught out in a lie or an exaggeration for which you have to apologise.
Humble / ˈhʌm.bəl
Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.