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The joke's on us

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 26, 2006

In Reply to: The joke's on us posted by pamela on July 26, 2006

: : : : : Hello - does anyone know the origins of the saying, Smart as a Cookie? I found one reference to 1948, but it didn't give any details. Thank you all in advance and I apologize if this has been covered, if so I was not able to put my finger on a past thread.

: : : : I've heard "that's one smart cookie."

: : : I've heard "a smart cookie" but not "smart as a cookie." The Dictionary of American Slang has these two among its definitions of "cookie":
: : : "A man; usually a man who is self-confident, clever, or brusque; usu. in 'tough cookie' or 'smart cookie.' 1942: 'Just about the toughest cookie ever born.' _Amer. Mercury_, Oct.,..."
: : : "Any person, esp. a clever, brash, or energetic one."

: : Reminds me of the joke:
: : did you hear about the smart cookie who went around selling girl scouts?
: : which I decided would draw a blank in the UK.... girl scouts (read: Girl Guides) in the US raise funds by selling boxes of cookies (read:bisuits) door-to-door. (Yet another joke fails on the autopsy table....)

: A few years ago, Australian TV removed its local content laws about the percentage of overseas advertisements we could have. Ever since then, complaints abound about our young people abandoning Australian (i.e. British) terms in favour of American ones (seems about half our ads are from the US - they don't even bother to do an Australian voice-over anymore). So, while my sister was a girl guide who sold Girl Guide Biscuits, "girl guide biscuits" only gets about 10 hits on Australian Google, "girl scout biscuits" gets 8, but "girl scout cookies" gets about 2,000. (And to think that, only 5 years ago, we had never heard of Orios and many kids thought the Cookie Monster was eating "Kookise" biscuits). Out of interest, I will tell you that US ads hyperbolise in a way that is often hilarious to Australians (at least gen X's and older). Pamela

My information, partly from the OED, is that the Scots use the word cookie for a type of plain bun. The rest of the English-speaking world can choose between biscuits, as in the U.K., or cookies. The word biscuit, from the French, was most often spelt bisket until the 19th century. Then some spelling reformers got everybody to shift to biscuit, the French spelling, without, however, adopting the French pronunciation. This seems to have happened a lot in the U.K. in the 19th century.
Cookies came to the U.S., specifically New Amsterdam, from Holland. The Dutch liked to celebrate St. Nicholas' Day (Dec. 6) with koekjes (diminuitive of koeks, = cakes). The Dutch in the New World wanted to celebrate St. Nicholas' Day, too, so a lot of koekjes were sent by ship across the stormy Atlantic to New Amsterdam, arriving just about in time to celebrate another holiday, Christmas. It wasn't long before the British obtained New Amsterdam and rebaned it New York, for the Duke of York. (You remember the Duke of York: The noble Duke of York, / He had ten thousand men, / He marched them to the top of the hill, then marched them down again.)
The colonies thus obtained an ample supply of delicious koekjes, which they called cookies and began to bake for themselves, and a permanent association of St. Nicholas with Christmas.

Both the cookies and their name seem to have made their way around the English-speaking world, including Oreos. In the U.S., Girl Scout cookies are known for being expensive, but delicious. One can almost keep tabs on the ups and downs of the Girl Scouts in a particular neighborhood by whether or not some mom drags her little girl around selling cookies. I'm sorry to say the Girl Scouts seem to be losing ground to after-school sports for girls and to the Internet, and possibly to activities I'd rather not hear about.