Take the biscuit

Yankee Yahoo Confesses, Biscuit at 11.

Dear WD: While looking at a photograph of Neil Hamilton brandishing a ginger biscuit (and assuring the crowd that he would declare it on the MP’s registry of member’s interests), I started to wonder where the phrase “taking the biscuit” derives from and whether the MP’s subsequent conduct has indeed taken the biscuit. — Per Porter.

All in all, I think that if someone pressed me with the question, “So, Evan, what’s your favorite thing about receiving questions via the Internet from people all over the world,” I’d have to say, “The opportunity it gives me to reveal myself, at regular intervals, as a provincial boob.” That’s right, boys and girls, I haven’t the vaguest idea who Neil Hamilton is, although I presume, based on the context furnished by your question, that Mr. Hamilton is a Member of Parliament. Aside from that, I know that Fergie has been hanging out in the company of (and presumably bending the occasional spoon with) Uri Geller, but that’s really about as far as my knowledge of British current affairs goes. Mea culpa.

I do, however, know that when you folks say “biscuit,” you mean what we in the U.S. call a “cookie.” (What we call a “biscuit” is a leaden concoction of flour, milk and butter invented by a bored and lonely cardiologist.) Thanks to the Oxford English Dictionary, I can also tell you that to “take the biscuit” is equivalent to “taking the cake,” meaning to take first prize or be judged the winner.

The origin of these sayings almost certainly lies in childhood contests where the winner’s prize is a cake or biscuit, but modern use of the terms is almost exclusively ironic — someone “takes the cake” when their conduct is shocking, surprising, or sets a new low in ethics. Since I don’t know what Mr. Hamilton has done lately (or ever, for that matter), I can’t swear that he’s “taken the biscuit,” but, given his occupation, I’d say it’s a safe bet that he will soon.

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