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Last updated at 09:44 BST, Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A finger in every pie

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Helen is shocked to hear that Jen has her finger in every pie. But what does this phrase really mean? Rosie explains in this programme.

Fruit pie

Does Jen really have her finger in every pie?

The script for this programme

Rosie: Hi and welcome to The English We Speak. Today we're having an office party with the whole BBC Learning English team.

Helen: And we're eating some delicious cakes and pies that Jen has baked for us. Have you tried the apple tart?

Rosie: Mmm... It's so tasty. Jen really has a lot of different skills, doesn't she?

Helen: Yeah, she really gets involved in lots of different activities. She's always organising different parties, goes rowing... and did you know she works as a weather presenter at the weekend?

Rosie: And she's a good cook too - this blueberry crumble is delicious. She really does have a finger in every pie.

Helen: Ugh, really? I mean they taste good, but now I know she puts her fingers in them... I think I've just lost my appetite.

Rosie: That's not what I meant when I said she has a finger in every pie. It means she gets involved in a lot of different things.

Helen: So someone has a finger in every pie when they're involved in different activities? Is it a good thing then?

Rosie: Well, in this case, when I said Jen has a finger in every pie, I meant it as a good thing, but it can sometimes suggest someone gets involved in things when they shouldn't.

Helen: So it can be a good or a bad thing... Let's have a look at some examples:

  • If you need any information just ask Annabel. She has a finger in every pie and always knows the answer.
  • At work I'm a teacher but I also do some accounting and organise the end-of-term play. I like to have a finger in every pie!
  • "I can't seem to do anything without him being there - yesterday I went to the photography club and he was there." "Well, unfortunately he does have a finger in every pie."

Helen: So if someone gets involved in too many different things and people disapprove of this, it can be used as a criticism.

Rosie: Yes, and Shakespeare used it in his play Henry VIII. In the play it's used as a criticism of someone who gets involved in everything when he shouldn't:

No man's pie is freed
From his ambitious finger.

Helen: So the person criticised here feels the need to put his 'ambitious finger' in every single pie that's baked to taste them all...

Rosie: Yes, which means he gets involved in things he shouldn't.

Helen: But Shakespeare used the expression in a slightly different way from how we use it today. Now we just say someone has a finger in every pie.

Rosie: Yes, it's slightly less poetic than "no man's pie is freed from his ambitious finger".

Helen: Well, this is all very interesting, but I haven't tried the peach pie yet...

Rosie: Well, no pie is freed from Helen's greedy fingers, is it? Only joking, Helen!

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