06 December 2010

Selling like hotcakes

I've often been confused by the phrase "selling like hotcakes", meaning selling quickly and in large numbers. I have never ever seen hotcakes, or just-cooked pancakes, sold in this manner. The Word Detective did provide a plausible explanation
The term “hotcake” is an American invention, dating back to the late 17th century (”pancake,” meaning the same food, is older, first appearing in England around 1400). To “sell like hotcakes” has meant “to be in great demand” since about 1839, and there doesn’t seem to have been any particular “hotcake fad” leading to the origin of the phrase. But hotcakes have always been popular at fairs and church socials, etc., often selling as fast as they can be cooked, so they make a good metaphor for a very popular product that sells quickly and in great numbers.
It seems rather strange to serve hotcakes (pancakes) at fairs and the like.  Perhaps the phrase should be revised or replaced with "flying off the shelves".

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