pie in the sky

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See also: pie-in-the-sky


Labor activist and songwriter Joe Hill who composed the song “The Preacher and the Slave” (1911), from which the phrase pie in the sky originates



The phrase is originally from the song “The Preacher and the Slave” (1911) by Swedish-American labor activist and songwriter Joe Hill (1879–1915), which he wrote as a parody of the Salvation Army hymnIn the Sweet By-and-By” (published 1868). The song criticizes the Salvation Army for focusing on people’s salvation rather than on their material needs:[1]

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.





pie in the sky (uncountable)

  1. (idiomatic) A fanciful notion; an unrealistic or ludicrous concept; the illusory promise of a desired outcome that is unlikely to happen.
    • 1950, Anya Seton [pseudonym; Anya Seton Chase], Foxfire, Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin; republished Boston, Mass.: Mariner Books, 2015, →ISBN, page 124:
      Don't you think I have anything better to do than go scrambling around hundreds of square miles of the toughest wilderness in the state looking for pie in the sky?
    • 1970, John Lennon (lyrics and music), “I Found Out”, in John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band:
      Old Hare Krishna got nothing on you / Just keep you crazy with nothing to do / Keep you occupied with pie in the sky
    • 1994, Alfred W. Crosby[, Jr.], “Demography, Maize, Land, and the American Character”, in Germs, Seeds & Animals: Studies in Ecological History (Sources and Studies in World History), Armonk, N.Y., London: M. E. Sharpe, →ISBN, page 167:
      [M]ost Americans are chronically materialistic and optimistic, more interested in short-range than long-range prospects, and have been for many generations. Pie on the table today or, at the latest, tomorrow—apple pie, mince pie, pecan pie, apricot pie, coconut cream pie, lemon meringue pie, peach cobbler pie, blueberry, blackberry, huckleberry, and pizza pie—that is what they want, not "pie in the sky," whether the source of that promise be Christianity or Marxism.
    • 2015, Sophie Hudson, “The Brat Pack Movies Didn’t Really Cover this Part”, in Home is Where My People Are: The Roads that Lead Us to Where We Belong, Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, →ISBN, page 117:
      [] I grew in the House Full of Practical People, so any grand, dream-chasing pursuit has always struck me as sort of pie in the sky.
    • 2020 December 2, Christian Wolmar, “Wales offers us a glimpse of an integrated transport policy”, in Rail, page 57:
      Ah, I can hear the objectors say, all this is pie in the sky and too expensive. In fact, according to Lord Burns, "this is all perfectly feasible at a reasonable cost".



Derived terms





  1. ^ Brendan Koerner (2003 January 15) “Where does the phrase ‘pie in the sky’ come from?”, in Slate[1], archived from the original on 2 December 2016; Douglas Harper (2001–2024) “pie in the sky”, in Online Etymology Dictionary, retrieved 21 July 2017.

Further reading