Today is National Cheesecake Day, a designated 24 hours in which to celebrate a decadent dessert whose origin dates back to ancient Greece. For us, a bunch of word nerds and language lovers, this random “holiday” inspired a random curiosity… exactly when and how did the term “cheesecake” come to be a sexual metaphor for women? Only one way to find out. So we dug in to the rich, creamy confection’s history on a linguistic quest, and this is what we found out.
According to Neatorama, the term “cheesecake,” in connection with women, was used in Britain in the 1660s to describe “overly sexy or promiscuous” women. Their article notes, “It can be found in Poems and Songs Relating to the Late Times, published in 1662. Shortly after Oliver Cromwell died, it was used to regret the occasion of Cromwell driving certain ladies (of questionable repute) out of the town: But ah! It goes against our hearts, to lose our cheesecake and our tarts.”
“But ah! It goes against our hearts, to lose our cheesecake and our tarts.”
Despite that little “cheesecake” ditty, it apparently took 250 years for the term to actually catch on as a universal ‘woman as dessert’ metaphor. “Fast forward to 1912, when James Kane, a photographer, was working for The New York Journal. One day James was posing an attractive young woman when a breeze blew her skirt up. When more leg than usual came on display, Mr. Kane (who reputedly loved cheesecake) exclaimed, ‘Wow! This is better than cheesecake!'”
Urban Dictionary gives yet another interesting account of the term’s origin in the context of our investigation. They say “cheesecake” was used to describe “a genre of glamour photography and poster art made popular in wartime pin-ups of the 1940’s, often featuring modest poses by movie starlets displaying lots of leg but little explicit nudity. So called because of the resemblance of a stocking-clad female thigh to the layers of a cheesecake dessert.”
So there you have it… the curious origin of the term “cheesecake” as it relates to women. And for the record, our new found linguistic knowledge has done nothing to spoil our taste for the classic dessert!