kayk-wawk • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Something exceptionally easy to accomplish: selling cosmetics is a cakewalk for her. 2. A 19th-century strutting contest held among African Americans in the southern US, in which the contestant who walked with the fanciest steps won a cake.
Notes: The compound, cakewalk, came from the name of the strutting contest mentioned in the second definition above. Though the original cakewalks were no cakewalk, today's Good Word is also the origin of the expression "a piece of cake", in the sense of something that is very easy to accomplish. A cakewalker is someone who prances or struts when they walk.
In Play: Today's Good Word refers to things that are a piece of cake, exceptionally easy: "Lester found that running the company was more like herding cats and not at all the cakewalk he had expected." Anything that is exceptionally easy may be a cakewalk: "Marcia, you read all the time! Winning the spelling bee will be a cakewalk for you."
Word History: Cake was borrowed from the Vikings during their raids along the northern coasts of England in the 11th century. It was the Old Norse correlate of Modern Swedish kaka "cake, cookie, loaf". (Apparently Viking cakes were not as tasty as those we bake today.) Walk comes from the root meaning "roll", which also underlies German Welle "wave" and walzen "to roll". You can see it in the name of our swirly dance, the waltz. (Coming up with interesting words like today's is a cakewalk for the Pale Writer of our Agora, John Hall.)