eat your words:  to accept publicly that you were wrong about something you said

Of all the practically-speaking indigestible things we can eat- you up, crow, humble pie, Bart Simpson’s shorts, one’s hat, one’s heart out, or dirt- today, words seem to be a popular choice.

The earliest instance of people literally eating their words was in 1372, when the Pope sent two representatives carrying a rolled parchment to Bernabo Visconti, an Italian soldier, to inform him that he had been excommunicated. Enraged, Visconti arrested the delegates and made them eat the parchment- words, lead seal, silken cord and all.  The first use of the phrase was written by John Calvin in 1571: “God eateth not his words when he hath once spoken.”  Calvin (1509-1564) was a French theologian who is noted to be one of the most significant figures of the Protestant Reformation. Now, “eat your words” litters food blogs, books, political slander, diet guides, song lyrics, headlines and our memory banks of cliches.

In the digital world, our words still have weight, but we throw them around easily. All of our communication platforms provide us with convenience, but also require constant energy and maintenance. There is a website dedicated to maintaining a “regret index,” where readers can participate in logging their remorse for past behaviors and verbal blunders.  Scientific studies exist that calculate the constant wavering between regret and guilt in Western society, where we put more of an emphasis on the necessary instead of the indulgent. People in the public eye can be criticized for every public statement, and history shows us that words can damage or inspire. The older we get, the more we regret choosing virtue over vice.


The  eat your words project was an opportunity to perhaps delight yourself (against the norms), see your handwriting again and take the time to reflect on language and how you use it. In the true meaning of the phrase, this took place in public, at {now-closed} Margaret Palca Bakes in Brooklyn, part of  Windows Brooklyn 2009. Thanks, Margaret Palca & staff, for being generous with time and cookies.

Instructions were as follows:

o Acquire a cookie from the counter.
o What will your word(s) be?
o Write them on the cookie with the provided edible pens.
o Please take a photo of your cookie, and a photo of you eating it.
o Reflect.
o Eat.
o Enjoy.
o Savor the irrevocable moment of taking it all back.