On Monday, I mentioned that I may need to eat crow regarding something I said in an earlier blog post. After writing the phrase, I realized that although I know what it means, I don’t know why it means that.
For those who are new to American English, to “eat crow” means to humbly admit when you are wrong and accept the consequences of being so. But why crow?
Well, not that I can tell you firsthand, but apparently crow tastes disgusting. I can’t imagine that it would taste all that good given that crows are carrion birds and eat roadkill and eyeballs and other disgusting things. I suppose that crow meat is edible when boiled, but it leaves a lot to be desired on the palate. So the first possibility of why we eat crow when we are wrong is that admitting our faults is about as palatable as eating something disgusting.
There’s a story that the phrase is based on a historical incident dating back to the War of 1812, when a British soldier forced an American soldier to eat a crow that was shot on British land. Whether that is true or not, it segues nicely into the second phrase from the title: Humble Pie.
Eating crow is a specifically American phrase, but it has a British cousin. Eating “humble pie” means roughly the same things as “eating crow”, but where the American phrase is based on the literal unpleasantness of eating a carrion bird, the British phrase is built with inherent humor. You see, “humble pie” is a play on words, but to understand the joke you need to know that umbles are the undesirable leftover guts (stomach, intestines, etc.) from a deer or other hunted creature. If you think about it, umbles is pretty close to umbilical, which has to do with our stomach region, but umbles has fallen out of vogue with pop culture.
So to eat humble pie means both eating something gross like crow, but it is also a humbling experience. And now that I know the difference between these phrases, I’m going to start saying humble pie instead of crow, because even though they both taste bad, I prefer the one with comic flair.