Pie in the Sky – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Craving some pie? What if it’s in the sky? I know that doesn’t make much sense, but the idea is related to a unique idiom we use in the English language. So, what does this expression mean? I’ll unpack all the details right here in this guide so you understand its meaning, origin and even how to use it in a sentence.

Meaning of Pie in the Sky

Pie in the Sky Idiom Origin Meaning

No, pie in the sky isn’t about some kind of weird, celestial dessert. Although, that does create a pretty cool image! This idiom describes an ill promise of future success or happiness that seems unlikely to come true. It’s the metaphorical carrot on a stick, always out of reach.

It’s actually the exact phrase my family used when I told them I planned to be a published author. Twenty years ago, that wasn’t a viable or attainable career choice, not like it is today with indie publishing.

Baking the Pie in the Sky Origin and Etymology

Pie in the Sky Ngram
Pie in the sky usage trend.

The phrase pie in the sky was baked up by Joe Hill, a Swedish-American labor activist, in his early 1900s song The Preacher and the Slave. It was a critique of the Salvation Army, which he accused of promising heavenly rewards to the poor while doing little to improve their earthly conditions.

Pie-in-the-Sky or Pie in the Sky?

When you’re writing it, the phrase is more commonly used without hyphenation, so it’s typically written as pie in the sky. But if you were using it as an adjective to modify a noun, you would hyphenate it.

  • Noun: Your dream of becoming an author is a pie in the sky.
  • Adjective: Becoming an author is a pie-in-the-sky dream.

Other Ways to Say Pie in the Sky

Feeling adventurous and want to whip up other ways to express pie in the sky? Here are a few synonyms that mean the same thing and work great in place of it.

Serving Up Pie in the Sky in a Sentence

Pie in the Sky Idiom Origin Meaning 1

Ready to dish out pie in the sky in your conversations or work it into whatever you’re writing? Here are some tasty examples.

  • Darren’s dreams of becoming a Hollywood star are nothing more than pie in the sky.
  • My daughter’s idea of a completely pollution-free world, while admirable, is currently pie in the sky.
  • Buying a house in today’s market is looking more like a pie-in-the-sky dream.
  • The notion of work-life balance feels like pie in the sky for a lot of working parents like me.
  • Elon’s vision of colonizing Mars is still largely seen as pie in the sky by many people.

Wrapping Up Pie in the Sky

I know it sounds like a strange, goofy expression, but it’s been around for quite some time and can help add a sprinkle of lightheartedness to any conversation about pipe dreams or other ideas that seem out of reach. Try it on for size!