- I thought the course was going to be difficult, but it ended up being a cakewalk.
- Completing the physical examination was a cakewalk.
- Learning to play the piano well is no cakewalk.
The phrase has been utilized since at least the mid-to-late-1800s, and it is thought to have initially referred to a walking competition that was an African-American custom.
As it came into general usage, it referred to a jovial and silly procession, which was easily learned and entertaining to watch. The 1901 book, Stage Hypnotism: A Text Book for Occult Entertainments (Professor Leonidas, Bureau of Stage Hypnotism, Chicago: p. 81), uses the term in this sense, as does the 1906 book, Hints and Helps from Many School-Rooms (ed., Caroline Stearn Griffin, A.S. Barnes & Company: pp. 167-168). In both cases, a cakewalk is described as a light-footed walk in which a man escorts a woman around in a parade-like fashion. Hints and Helps suggested adopting the activity for pupils to engage in during recess when the weather did not permit them to play outside, while Stage Hypnotism offered it as an example of an activity that people could be hypnotically suggested to engage in. Both clearly assume a wide familiar with the term on the part of their readers.
Claude Debussy titled the final piece of his 1913 Children’s Corner piano suite, “Golliwog’s Cakewalk.”