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The usage of the word cookie varies markedly in different parts of the English-speaking world. The usual British perception is that it is the American equivalent of biscuit, but it is not quite so simple as that. To be sure, it is used in the USA and Canada for ‘biscuits’, but only sweet biscuits; and it also includes slightly leavened biscuits that attain a partially raised shape which would almost qualify them in Britain for the term cake. In this particular sense cookie has to some extent established itself in British English, helped no doubt by the sale in the United Kingdom of various brands of American-style chocolate-chip cookies. The word was introduced into the USA in the late eighteenth century by Dutch immigrants, and comes from Dutch koekje, a diminutive form of koek, ‘cake’. Dutch influence is no doubt responsible also for the parallel use of the word in South African English. In Scotland, however, the situation is markedly different; there, cookie signifies a ‘plain bun’, and there must be some doubt as to whether it comes from the same source as the American word.

The colloquial use of cookie for ‘guy, fellow’ (as in a ‘smart cookie’) dates from 1920s America. Less internationalized is the US expression toss the cookies, meaning ‘vomit’. How the cookie crumbles for ‘the way things are’ originated in the USA too, apparently in the late 1950s.

Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.


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