Dear Word Detective: So why do we call mouths “pie holes” (as in “Shut your pie hole”)? Of all the foods we could have chosen, what is special about pie? I mean, I like pie and all, but not as much as … say, pastrami. In researching this on my own, I’ve been notified that “pie hole” is probably a variant of “cake hole,” a phrase that apparently was coined in England sometime around World War II (also used in the context of “shut your cake hole”). And “cake” might be a corruption of “ceg,” Welsh for mouth. Is this etymology correct? Or did “pie hole” originate from some completely other source? — James Takahashi.
Mmmm … cake. You can keep your pastrami, and the rye it rode in on. I’d be happy to live out my days on a diet of cake and pizza. I am especially fond of the classic wedding cake, but it’s hard to find except at weddings. Incidentally, is it wrong to encourage your friends to divorce and remarry just so you can get some decent cake? Oh well, too late now.
Somehow I seem incapable of hearing the words “pie hole” without thinking of the classic exchange between Homer Simpson and Moe the bartender: Homer: Hmm. I wonder why he’s so eager to go to the garage? Moe: The “garage”? Hey fellas, the “garage”! Well, ooh la di da, Mr. French Man. Homer: Well, what do you call it? Moe: A car hole!
I must say that although I’ve heard the expressions “pie hole” and “cake hole” in several movies (I have a dim memory of Bruce Willis saying “pie hole” in something forgettable), I don’t think I’ve ever heard either phrase used in casual conversation, but both apparently have been for quite a while. “Cake hole” is the older, dating back to British armed services use in 1943. The earliest printed citation we have for “pie hole,” however, is only from 1983, although it was probably in use for at least a few years before then. “Pie hole” was clearly inspired by “cake hole,” the substitution made perhaps because pie, especially apple, has long been considered a typical American dessert.
As slang for “mouth,” both phrases exhibit the sort of cheerful bluntness and vulgarity common to armed services and working-class slang, “Shut your cake hole” being far more colorful (and, given the humorous element, perhaps less confrontational) than simply saying “Shut your mouth.”
As for the possible Welsh connection, “ceg” does indeed mean “mouth” in Welsh, but the resemblance to “cake” is almost certainly simply coincidental. Among other things, “ceg hole” would be a bit redundant, and there is no record of such a phrase ever being used.