You really take the biscuit

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susanna76

Senior Member
Romanian
Hi there,

What does "You really take the biscuit" mean exactly, metaphorically and literally? Found it in a book at some point, forget where. I do understand it's something like "You're too much!" but what does "biscuit" have to do with anything?

Thanks!
 
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    From biscuit:
    take the biscuit (or chiefly N. Amer. cake) informal be the most remarkable or foolish of its kind.

    From the OED:
    Cake is often used figuratively in obvious allusion to its estimation (esp. by children) as a ‘good thing’, the dainty, delicacy, or ‘sweets’ of a repast. So cakes and ale, cake and cheese (Scotl.). to take the cake, (†U.S. cakes): to carry off the honours, rank first; often used ironically or as an expression of surprise.
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    There is a tale, perhaps a folk etymology, that "take the cake" actually refers to contests in which first prize was a cake—the best, the winner at whatever the contest was about, "took the cake" home.

    Here, the meaning of "cake" is in the American sense of a large, fluffy baked good, usually decorated with frosting or icing, like a wedding cake, not the kind of cake one would eat with ale or cheese.
     

    pops91710

    Senior Member
    English, AE
    Man, when it comes to being a fool, you take the cake!
    This girl takes the cake when it comes to beautiful blue eyes.

    To win the (imagined) prize, or contest for said deed, ocassion, or quality.
     

    susanna76

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    Well, "take the cake" makes more sense, because the cake is a big affair. But the biscuit? Why would a biscuit be a prize? I checked biscuit and it's (BrE: ) a small baked unleavened cake, typically crisp, flat, and sweet. Maybe it's the last biscuit on the plate?

    Maybe I'm being too particular. I do understand the general concept now though, through the "take the cake" version.
     

    pops91710

    Senior Member
    English, AE
    Well, "take the cake" makes more sense, because the cake is a big affair. But the biscuit? Why would a biscuit be a prize? I checked biscuit and it's (BrE: ) a small baked unleavened cake, typically crisp, flat, and sweet. Maybe it's the last biscuit on the plate?

    Maybe I'm being too particular. I do understand the general concept now though, through the "take the cake" version.
    Well, in answer to that, I think biscuit here was meant in the BE way, not AE. In BE a biscuit is the equivilent of a cookie. In the US we have a famous cookie maker called NABISCO which stands for NAtional BIScuit COmpany.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    PThe take the biscuit version may have been American in origin. At least, that is what Michael Quinion of World Wide Words suggests:
    Take the biscuit could once mean winning or excelling.[....] But these days, it’s an exclamation to suggest that somebody has done something unprincipled that would win them a prize in a contest of unethicalness. An early example that shows how this sense developed was in the Fort Wayne Daily Gazette of Indiana in November 1880. There seemed to be a quarrel going on between the editor of the Gazette and a rival paper: “For pure cussedness, the new and exceedingly fresh young person [at] the Sentinel takes the biscuit.”
    He doesn't offer an answer to the question of why we say 'biscuit',* [edit] in this context [/edit] nor have I found any other. If the saying did originate in the US, we would want know why a biscuit would be associated with winning the prize in this country.

    Added: This endorsement of The British Printer (1895), a journal.
    You are not content to "take the biscuit," but evidently the whole baker's shop. No live printer should be without the BP. It is "worth a guinea a box," I mean a guinea per annum. — Chan. M. Rose ( Overseer, Folkestone Herald). The British printer: Volume 8 - Page xcviii
    *Added again: Pops' article below is a very interesting discussion of the source of the confusing difference between AE and BE use of the word 'biscuit', but I see that I wasn't clear: I was looking for an answer to susanna76's question of why a biscuit appears in this idiom.
     
    Last edited:

    pops91710

    Senior Member
    English, AE
    The take the biscuit version seems to have been American in origin. At least, that is what Michael Quinion of World Wide Words suggests:He doesn't offer an answer to the question of why we say 'biscuit', nor have I found any other. If the saying did originate in the US, we would want know why a biscuit would be associated with winning the prize in this country.
    Cagey, I found this to be very enlightening. It also seems to clarify how we began to call biscuits cookies by Dutch influence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biscuit
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Man, when it comes to being a fool, you take the cake!
    This girl takes the cake when it comes to beautiful blue eyes.

    To win the (imagined) prize, or contest for said deed, ocassion, or quality.
    From the explanations above, and how it feels, I think "take the cake" is used appropriately in the first example, but not in the second.

    The OED and Quinion quotes suggest that the expression is no longer used in an entirely complimentary sense.
     
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