I work for a German company and spend a lot of time conversing with German colleagues whose English is one thousand times better than my German!
In fact they are so fluent I sometimes forget it is not their native tongue…until I use some idiom that gets me puzzled looks.
I used the phrase ‘that takes the biscuit’ in a recent conversation and with dawning realisation I saw that this was causing some confusion. The etymological origins of this actually took me longer to explain than the whole original conversation so in this instance, using an idiom was not a good shortcut.
For those not in the know, its meaning is from 1800’s Naval times basically saying ‘well that takes the prize’ , and not necessarily for something good and in reality probably something bad like running out of food and even using the last ships biscuit, very much a last resort food item!
Anyway, I digress a little but still on biscuits………..
In the same way that choosing a coffee has become a university degree course, and using the right name for a bread roll in different parts of the UK requires a phrase book (see my previous blog ‘Please come to visit us’ on the joys of buying coffee and choosing bread rolls in the uk…click on the highlighted words to link..), the art of biscuit selection requires at least some higher level training to be completed before a simple purchase can be made. It is a complex subject….
As a child, based on my limited biscuit expertise (i.e. what darkened the door of our house and biscuit tin) I would have sworn in a court of law that only 4 types of biscuit ever actually existed in the world: namely rich tea, chocolate digestive, regular (boring!) digestive and custard creams.
But now when asked to ‘pick up a packet of biscuits’ when at the supermarket can leave me totally overwhelmed. The range seems endless now….Balzen biscuits from Germany, Hobnobs, Jammy Dodgers , Penguins (no Penguins are harmed in the making of those biscuits…to reassure those of you from non Penguin biscuit countries) and Chocolate Chip cookies. And don’t even go down the route of Wagon Wheels or Oreo biscuits (why are they a very strange colour and indeed remind me of dog biscuits? ) or numerous others untasted and unknown in the array that will welcome me in the supermarket.
And then of course there are Kit Kats……..
As a child I think they were seen more of being in the confectionery world but have now absconded to the biscuit aisle joining their new younger cousins Breakaways and Rocky Road. And then I find some UK regional items have sneaked in.
Tunnocks Caramel wafers: as plentiful in Waitrose in Harrogate as in Aldi in Glasgow now. I think I have also seen them for sale in the Middle East!
There are whole hierarchies of biscuits and their usage to be understood …everyday biscuits, luxury biscuits, speciality biscuits, biscuits only served with coffee, hand made, home made, Christmas biscuits and a whole lot of crossover products that are somewhere in the middle! Give a man inadequate instructions on the social standing of the occasion and it is guaranteed the purchase will be wrong one….
I realise for my non UK readers this is very UK centric but I suspect in your countries too the dilemma is the same!
And in the USA of course then there are biscuits that are in a whole new world of living on dinner plate…with gravy! My first ever visit to Georgia, USA has that experience etched on my mind.
But one final thought going back to second languages…the word biscuit is not an English word at all ….but derived from two French words ‘bis-cuit’..simply meaning twice cooked.
Vive la France!
Look forward to your comments. Biscuit choice is of course a very subjective matter!
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