There are some sayings or phrases that are uttered that echo throughout history. Every so often, a great person will utter a phrase that inspires people for generations and is remembered throughout history for their poignant words at the perfect time.
Then there are other phrases that go down in history, but not in a good way. Some people say things that just shouldn’t be said, and every so often, they are remembered for that horrible thing for years and years to come. The phrase “let them eat cake” is one of those infamous phrases.
So today, we’re going to talk about the historical phrase “let them eat cake.” By the end of this short guide, you’ll have a solid understanding of the word “let them eat cake,” its definitions, its etymology, and how to use it. Let’s get started.
What’s the Legend Behind the Saying “Let Them Eat Cake?”
The story goes that the first time this phrase was said was in the 18th century. The utterer of this egregious saying was none other than the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. She was the wife of King Louis XVI. Louis was an oppressive ruler, just like Louis XV before him and Louis XIV before him.
Antoinette was actually a princess of Austria, daughter of Maria Theresa, before she married the Dauphin of Franch, Louis, at the age of 14 in 1770, making her an Austrian noble in the French court. Louis XVI inherited the throne from Louis XV in 1775.
These pair of nobles were notorious for being so wealthy that they were out of touch with the rest of society. While thousands upon thousands of people in their nation starved, Marie Antoinette and King Louis lived unnecessarily lavishly, with diamond necklaces, hundreds of shoes, massive parties, and more.
Things got so bad for French peasants that they decided to launch a protest. The famous Women’s March on Versailles protest took place in 1789, where women protested, demanding bread for their hungry children and families. These women came right up to the royal palace with their strong demands.
The starving women needed bread to feed their families, but because of bread shortages due to poor harvests and rat infestations, they couldn’t afford it. When Marie Antoinette was told about their problem, she proposed a preposterous solution, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” meaning “let them eat cake.”
How out of touch do you have to be to suggest that starving people eat cake when bread wasn’t available? This famous phrase truly revealed the obliviousness of Queen Marie Antoinette and the rest of the royal family. They were simply out of touch with what it was like to be a peasant.
The Beginning of the End
Because of this phrase, the noblewoman became a hated figure in the public eye. In fact, this infamous comment served as the fuel for the French revolution. With 90% of the people living in poverty and taxes through the roof, Antoinette’s words were the final straw.
She was so hated that at the end of the French Revolution, in 1793, the French public took down the royal family, and Marie Antoinette was famously beheaded by the French people in the Parisian streets.
Did This Story Actually Happen?
Unfortunately, this famous story might just be a fictitious legend. There is no evidence that Antoinette ever said the phrase at all. No documents, eyewitness accounts, or anything else can verify that it happened.
The phrase was actually first said in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions. This series of books by the famous French writer was written in 1765 when Marie was only 10 years old.
In the book, Rousseau is looking for some bread to go with his wine. He felt too elegantly dressed to go into a bakery, and he remembered a phrase he had heard from a great princess to her starving people, “Let them eat cake.”
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr dispelled the myth in 1843. But even though the famous story of Antoinette is not true, it is almost impossible to separate it from her legacy.
What Is the Etymology of the Phrase “Let Them Eat Cake?”
Again, the phrase is a translation of the French phrase qu’ils mangent de la brioche. You may recognize the last word in that phrase, brioche. Brioche is a sweet bread made with eggs and butter, and significantly, is not technically cake.
But brioche was a luxury food item back in the 1700s (like la croûte de pâté), and the phrase “let them eat brioche” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as “let them eat cake.” So while the translation might be a bit of a stretch, it still conveys the true meaning behind what is being said.
What Is the Significance of the Phrase Today?
Even though this phrase isn’t a common saying, and nobody says it seriously, it is still used now and again. Most of the time, people use it when they are trying to show that a wealthy individual is out of touch or if they are hoarding wealth at the expense of others.
What Are Some Examples of the Word “Let Them Eat Cake” in a Sentence?
Seeing a word in context can help bring more clarity to its definition and how you can use it in your own life. Here are some example sentences that use the saying “let them eat cake”:
- The CEO of Amazon had a real “let them eat cake” moment when he went to space while people were financially struggling during a global pandemic, and he was trying to prevent his workers from unionizing.
The Word “Let Them Eat Cake”
Now you know everything you need to know about the saying “let them eat cake,” its definition, its history, and how to use it. Use it confidently in your writing and your conversation. And if you need a refresher on this word, come back to this article for the information you need.