Every day is National Cookie Day in our book, but today, and every Dec. 4, it’s official. While there are tons of awesome cookie names — hamantasch, snickerdoodle, and stroopwafel, just to name a few — we thought we’d take a bite out of a brief history of cookie idioms.
An attractive lady
“That girl friend of yours is a cookie—hey, what?”
Collier’s: The National Weekly, March 6, 1920
While the word cookie originated in the early-to-mid 18th century — it first referred to a “baker’s plain bun” in Scotland, says the the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), before meaning something sweeter — the first figurative sense wasn’t until about 1920. This earliest citation, according to the OED, was in the above quote in Collier’s, an American magazine founded in 1888 by Peter Collier, an Irish-born publisher.
Not one in a million
“There are always ‘cookie cutter’ tendencies among us. One of these this year is the caracul trimmed coat which every other woman in New York wears.”
Chicago Sunday Tribune, Feb. 26, 1922
Cookie cutter referring to a device used to cut cookie dough into uniform shapes is from about 1864, says the OED. The adjective meaning seemingly mass produced and therefore lacking originality is from at least the early 1920s.
“An hour later, according to the log, ‘McFie shot his cookies’, the only sea-sickness on the voyage.”
Los Angeles Times, Aug. 4, 1927
The roaring ‘20s gives us another memorable cookie saying. This colorful way of saying to vomit is a North American slang term, says the OED, and specifically, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English, originating in the North and North Midland regions of the U.S. as college slang.
Smart and tough
“We’re a couple of smart cookies, hey?”
Oakland Tribune, June 4, 1939
While we’re now probably more likely to say someone is a tough or smart cookie, this sense started with no modifier, simply referring to a person with generally positive qualities, says the OED. The earliest citation of this sense is in an Oct. 7, 1928 issue of the Chicago Tribune: “What a swell bunch of cookies you turned out to be.” The earliest reference for smart cookie is in the 1939 quote above while tough cookie is from an October 1942 issue of The American Mercury magazine: “Just about the toughest cookie ever born.”
Que sera sera
“From then on, that’s the way the cooky crumbled. I enjoyed having good ratings, but I didn’t enjoy the viciousness of the railbirds’ thrusts at Berle.”
“I Call on Phil Silvers,” Saturday Evening Post, Sept. 7, 1957
According to the OED, the above quote is the earliest recorded usage of this idiom (uttered by comedian Phil Silvers) but was probably in use before this.
“If cookies are handy for Web shoppers, site developers, advertisers and trackers, they are irritating and intrusive to many users who do not want to leave behind a digital fingerprint.”
Anne Eisenberg, Scientific American, October 1996
This computing term originated in the mid-1980s, says the OED. Its earliest usage is from a 1987 electronic text: “The proposed procedures require each association to be assigned a random session key, which is provided by an authentication server called the Cookie Jar.” The term may have been originated by programmer Lou Montulli while at Netscape, coming from another computing term, magic cookie.
Want more magical cookie words? Check out this list.