Pie In The Sky: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
July 17, 2023

"Pie in the sky" refers to something really wonderful that probably isn't going to happen. This colorful idiom expresses a longing for something lovely or pleasant, even if it's unlikely or unrealistic. It adds a poetic touch to any serious or lighthearted conversation. While aspirational, the phrase is tinged with a sense of impossibility about attaining the thing desired. In general, "pie in the sky" is a whimsical idiom that poignantly captures the human tendency to wish for what we can't have.

In short:

  • The idiom "pie in the sky" means an unrealistic or unattainable goal or dream.
  • Use it to express skepticism or pessimism about the possibility of achieving something.

What Does "Pie in the Sky" Mean?

At its core, "pie in the sky" refers to a goal or hope often seen as desirable but unlikely to be fulfilled due to its idealistic or impractical nature. It could refer to plans, dreams, or schemes that are unlikely to come true or materialize.

Key aspects of the idiom's meaning:

  • Depicts a highly desirable yet unlikely outcome or reward
  • Illustrates expectations that are overly optimistic and improbable
  • Points to promises made with little chance of fulfillment or realization
  • Often used to express skepticism or doubt about the feasibility of a proposal or plan
  • Synonyms: pipe dream, a castle in the air, daydream
  • Example: "John's plan to become a millionaire in a year seems like pie in the sky to most of his friends."

Where Does "Pie in the Sky" Come From?

This idiom comes from a song made by Joe Hill, a Swedish-American guy who fought for workers' rights and wrote songs about it. He was part of a group called the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or the "Wobblies." He created a funny version of a religious song called "The Preacher and the Slave" that made fun of religious leaders who told poor, suffering workers they'd get rewards in heaven but didn't help them here on Earth. Take a look at the catchy part of the song below.

Historical Example

"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."

- The Preacher and the Slave (Pie in the Sky) by Joe Hill

"Bourgeois capitalists don't want their pie in the sky when they die. They want their pie here and now."

- Catholic Radicalism by Maurin Peter

10 Examples of "Pie in the Sky" in Sentences

  • Your fatal attraction to that startup company is just a pie in the sky unless you come up with a solid business plan.
  • For many people living in poverty, owning a house remains a pie in the sky.
  • The idea of a guaranteed income piqued my interest, but it seemed like pie in the sky in our current economy.
  • It's a three-dog night, and the promise of a warm summer feels like a pie in the sky right now.
  • The thought of ever achieving world peace seems like a pie in the sky.
  • While she dreams of being a girl boss, the journey there feels like a pie in the sky.
  • Although becoming a professional athlete may seem like a pie in the sky for many, it's worth pursuing if you are passionate and dedicated.
  • You go, girl! Don't let them tell you your dreams are just pie in the sky!
  • Creating a perfect society without crime or corruption is an ideal, but it is largely a pie in the sky.
  • Merci beaucoup! I always dreamed of having an apartment in Paris, but that's just a pie in the sky.

Examples of "Pie in the Sky" in Pop Culture

Thanks to its vibrant imagery, the idiom "pie in the sky" has been used in various media forms, including music, movies, and literature.

  • "Pie in the Sky" is a British police drama series that aired from 1994 to 1997.
  • "Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story" is a 2000 documentary about Brigid Berlin, a prominent member of Andy Warhol's Factory scene.
  • "Pie in the Sky" is a song by Johnny Cash, featured on his 1974 album "Ragged Old Flag."
  • The popular horror TV series The Walking Dead uses the phrase in this line: "Does that sound like pie in the sky?"

Other/Different Ways to Say "Pie in the Sky"

While "pie in the sky" is an expressive and colorful phrase, other idioms or expressions in English convey a similar meaning.

  • Castle in the air
  • Pipe dream
  • Daydream
  • Fool's paradise
  • A long shot
  • Illusions
  • False hopes
  • Unrealistic aspirations
  • Vague dreams of the future

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Pie in the Sky":

  • What does "pie in the sky" mean?

It's an idiom used to describe a dream or goal that is viewed as desirable but is unlikely to be realized or achieved.

  • What is the origin of "pie in the sky"?

The phrase "pie in the sky" originated from a song by Joe Hill, a Swedish-American labor activist, in 1911. The phrase has since been adopted into common English parlance to refer to unrealistic or unlikely goals or dreams.

  • How can I use "pie in the sky" in a sentence?

The idiom "pie in the sky" can be used in a sentence to express a desire or goal that is unlikely to be fulfilled. For example, "The idea of a four-day work week may seem like a pie in the sky, but some companies are trying to make it a reality."

  • What are some synonyms of "pie in the sky"?

Some synonyms include "pipe dream," "castle in the air," "daydream," and "fool's paradise."

  • Is "pie in the sky" a negative expression?

Not necessarily. While it can be used to express skepticism about the feasibility of a dream or goal, it doesn't carry a negative connotation in itself. It's more about the improbability of the achievement.

  • Can "pie in the sky" be used in formal writing?

Yes, though it is considered a colloquial expression and might not be suitable for very formal or academic writing.

  • Is "pie in the sky" an American idiom?

Yes, it originated in America but is now understood and used in many parts of the English-speaking world.

  • Can "pie in the sky" refer to an unlikely future event?

Yes, it often refers to goals or dreams that are seen as unlikely to occur in the future.

  • Is "pie in the sky" a sarcastic phrase?

It can be used sarcastically, especially when referring to overly ambitious or unrealistic plans or dreams.

  • What is the opposite of "pie in the sky"?

An opposite phrase could be a "sure thing" or a "safe bet," which refer to things that are certain or very likely to happen.

Final Thoughts About "Pie in the Sky"

“Pie in the sky” is an expressive idiom that is used to describe an unrealistically optimistic or fantastical aspiration. It can be used to playfully mock or question the practicality of someone's hopes or dreams. Recognizing and understanding idioms like these can greatly enrich your language skills and enable you to communicate more effectively.

Here's a quick summary:

  • "Pie in the sky" describes a dream or goal that is unrealistically optimistic or unlikely to be realized.
  • It was first used in a song by labor activist Joe Hill in the early 20th century.
  • It can be used in a variety of contexts, both formal and informal.
  • Synonyms include "pipe dream," "castle in the air," and "daydream."

Understanding idioms like "pie in the sky" can help you comprehend the nuances of English and enable you to express your thoughts more creatively and vividly.

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