Posted by R. Berg on April 13, 2001
In Reply to: Wooden Spoon Award posted by Doug Langmead on April 13, 2001
: How did the custom of awarding a wooden spoon to a losing competitor originate ? (not that I've been awarded one !)
: A popular tree-based kitchen implement to anyone who gets it wrong !
The Oxford English Dictionary comes to the rescue:
Wooden spoon: a spoon made of wood; spec. one presented by custom at Cambridge to the last of the Junior Optimes, i.e. the lowest of those taking honours in the Mathematical Tripos; hence, this position in the examination, or the person who takes it. Also, in extended use, referring to the lowest of a list or set in other connexions.
'At Yale, formerly, the student who took the last appointment in the Junior Exhibition; later, the most popular student in a class' ("Cent. Dict.").
1803 "Gradus ad Cantab." . . . Wooden Spoon, for wooden heads: . . . the lowest of the Junior Optimes. 1820 BYRON "Juan" . . . Sure my invention must be down at zero, And I grown one of many 'wooden spoons' Of verse (the name with which we Cantabs please To dub the last of honours in degrees). 1858 EARL MALMESBURY "Mem." . . . The 'wooden spoon' which is given to the Minister in the House of Commons who has been in the fewest divisions.