Discussion:
Why is it the cream of the /crop/?
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Stefan Ram
2021-04-06 01:53:29 UTC
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(I cannot access all parts of the Web right now, so maybe
I ask something that already is answered there. Sorry!)

I know that some people consider the cream of milk, or,
the "crème de la crème", to be the best part of the milk.

But how does /crop/ come into "the cream of the crop"?
Is it just to make the cr-cr alliteration? (But then it
could also be "cream of the crows" or something else.)

I think that crop has no cream in the literal sense.

"Crop" can also informally mean "a group of people
that arrive at the same time", and I find:

|the cream of the choicest men of the time
"Diana of the Crossways" - George Meredith

|the cream of the intellect of every generation
"Looking Backward 2000­1887" - Edward Bellamy

. Is it possible that the origin of "cream of the crop"
is a meaning like "the best of the class" where "crop"
stands for the class of a year, not for a plant?
Eric Walker
2021-04-06 06:19:11 UTC
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Post by Stefan Ram
(I cannot access all parts of the Web right now, so maybe
I ask something that already is answered there. Sorry!)
I know that some people consider the cream of milk, or, the "crème de
la crème", to be the best part of the milk.
But how does /crop/ come into "the cream of the crop"?
Is it just to make the cr-cr alliteration? (But then it could also be
"cream of the crows" or something else.)
I think that crop has no cream in the literal sense.
"Crop" can also informally mean "a group of people that arrive at the
|the cream of the choicest men of the time "Diana of the Crossways" -
George Meredith
|the cream of the intellect of every generation "Looking Backward
2000­1887" - Edward Bellamy
. Is it possible that the origin of "cream of the crop"
is a meaning like "the best of the class" where "crop" stands for the
class of a year, not for a plant?
When the phrase is used literally, it means the best specimens of the
harvest: the fullest ears of maize, the juciest apples, or whatever.
When used metaphorically (its usual role), the "crop" is whatever is
implied:

When looking for routers for home use, these models are the cream of
the crop.
--
Cordially,
Eric Walker
Bebercito
2021-04-06 07:15:13 UTC
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Post by Eric Walker
Post by Stefan Ram
(I cannot access all parts of the Web right now, so maybe
I ask something that already is answered there. Sorry!)
I know that some people consider the cream of milk, or, the "crème de
la crème", to be the best part of the milk.
But how does /crop/ come into "the cream of the crop"?
Is it just to make the cr-cr alliteration? (But then it could also be
"cream of the crows" or something else.)
Or just "the cream of the cream", as a calque of French "la crème
de la crème", which means the same.

But my guess is it could connote the old idiom "sort the wheat
from the chaff", with the "cream of the crop" likened to the wheat.
Post by Eric Walker
Post by Stefan Ram
I think that crop has no cream in the literal sense.
"Crop" can also informally mean "a group of people that arrive at the
|the cream of the choicest men of the time "Diana of the Crossways" -
George Meredith
|the cream of the intellect of every generation "Looking Backward
2000­1887" - Edward Bellamy
. Is it possible that the origin of "cream of the crop"
is a meaning like "the best of the class" where "crop" stands for the
class of a year, not for a plant?
When the phrase is used literally, it means the best specimens of the
harvest: the fullest ears of maize, the juciest apples, or whatever.
When used metaphorically (its usual role), the "crop" is whatever is
When looking for routers for home use, these models are the cream of
the crop.
--
Cordially,
Eric Walker
Peter T. Daniels
2021-04-06 14:09:24 UTC
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Post by Bebercito
Post by Stefan Ram
(I cannot access all parts of the Web right now, so maybe
I ask something that already is answered there. Sorry!)
I know that some people consider the cream of milk, or, the "crème de
la crème", to be the best part of the milk.
But how does /crop/ come into "the cream of the crop"?
Is it just to make the cr-cr alliteration? (But then it could also be
"cream of the crows" or something else.)
Or just "the cream of the cream", as a calque of French "la crème
de la crème", which means the same.
Where have you seen "cream of the cream"?

Someone apparently once put the calque into some thesaurus,
for no good reason. Mr. Google finds only derivatives of that, and
non-natives asking what it means, except for one example that is
literal rather than idiomatic --

https://www.nytimes.com/1971/01/03/archives/fifty-years-of-the-american-short-story-from-the-o-henry-awards.html

-- an anthology selected from 50 years of anthologies of the best
short stories of the year (each year's cream of the crop), which is
called the cream of the cream.

PSTNSHTSTL.
Post by Bebercito
But my guess is it could connote the old idiom "sort the wheat
from the chaff", with the "cream of the crop" likened to the wheat.
No.
Bebercito
2021-04-06 15:28:07 UTC
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Permalink
Post by Peter T. Daniels
Post by Bebercito
Post by Stefan Ram
(I cannot access all parts of the Web right now, so maybe
I ask something that already is answered there. Sorry!)
I know that some people consider the cream of milk, or, the "crème de
la crème", to be the best part of the milk.
But how does /crop/ come into "the cream of the crop"?
Is it just to make the cr-cr alliteration? (But then it could also be
"cream of the crows" or something else.)
Or just "the cream of the cream", as a calque of French "la crème
de la crème", which means the same.
Where have you seen "cream of the cream"?
Nowhere, I just said it _could be_ that for the cr-cr alliteration,
which would (incidentally)à be a calque of the French phrase.
But since you mention it, the phrase has indeed been used in
English too:

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=the+cream+of+the+cream&year_start=1700&year_end=2019&corpus=26&smoothing=3
Post by Peter T. Daniels
Someone apparently once put the calque into some thesaurus,
for no good reason. Mr. Google finds only derivatives of that, and
non-natives asking what it means, except for one example that is
literal rather than idiomatic --
https://www.nytimes.com/1971/01/03/archives/fifty-years-of-the-american-short-story-from-the-o-henry-awards.html
-- an anthology selected from 50 years of anthologies of the best
short stories of the year (each year's cream of the crop), which is
called the cream of the crexam.
PSTNSHTSTL.
Post by Bebercito
But my guess is it could connote the old idiom "sort the wheat
from the chaff", with the "cream of the crop" likened to the wheat.
No.
Who can tell for sure? After all, the universality of the biblical quote
may very well have impregnated the unconscious of those who
coined "cream of the crop" - and no other explanation apparently
holds.
Peter T. Daniels
2021-04-06 18:26:52 UTC
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Post by Bebercito
Post by Peter T. Daniels
Post by Bebercito
Post by Stefan Ram
(I cannot access all parts of the Web right now, so maybe
I ask something that already is answered there. Sorry!)
I know that some people consider the cream of milk, or, the "crème de
la crème", to be the best part of the milk.
But how does /crop/ come into "the cream of the crop"?
Is it just to make the cr-cr alliteration? (But then it could also be
"cream of the crows" or something else.)
Or just "the cream of the cream", as a calque of French "la crème
de la crème", which means the same.
Where have you seen "cream of the cream"?
Nowhere, I just said it _could be_ that for the cr-cr alliteration,
which would (incidentally)à be a calque of the French phrase.
But since you mention it, the phrase has indeed been used in
https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=the+cream+of+the+cream&year_start=1700&year_end=2019&corpus=26&smoothing=3
Did you bother to look at even one of the supposed examples,
to discover whether it was an example of such an idiom?

Or might it have simply found one thesaurus after another, copying
the entry on and on?
Bebercito
2021-04-06 22:52:51 UTC
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Post by Peter T. Daniels
Post by Bebercito
Post by Peter T. Daniels
Post by Bebercito
Post by Stefan Ram
(I cannot access all parts of the Web right now, so maybe
I ask something that already is answered there. Sorry!)
I know that some people consider the cream of milk, or, the "crème de
la crème", to be the best part of the milk.
But how does /crop/ come into "the cream of the crop"?
Is it just to make the cr-cr alliteration? (But then it could also be
"cream of the crows" or something else.)
Or just "the cream of the cream", as a calque of French "la crème
de la crème", which means the same.
Where have you seen "cream of the cream"?
Nowhere, I just said it _could be_ that for the cr-cr alliteration,
which would (incidentally)à be a calque of the French phrase.
But since you mention it, the phrase has indeed been used in
https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=the+cream+of+the+cream&year_start=1700&year_end=2019&corpus=26&smoothing=3
Did you bother to look at even one of the supposed examples,
to discover whether it was an example of such an idiom?
Or might it have simply found one thesaurus after another, copying
the entry on and on?
I could'nt tell, but one thing is for sure: the construction is productive
as a superlative: "top of the top", "best of the best", "elite of the
elite", etc. - which supports the idiom assumption.
Peter T. Daniels
2021-04-07 15:06:38 UTC
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Permalink
Post by Bebercito
Post by Peter T. Daniels
Post by Bebercito
Post by Peter T. Daniels
Post by Bebercito
Or just "the cream of the cream", as a calque of French "la crème
de la crème", which means the same.
Where have you seen "cream of the cream"?
Nowhere, I just said it _could be_ that for the cr-cr alliteration,
which would (incidentally)à be a calque of the French phrase.
But since you mention it, the phrase has indeed been used in
https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=the+cream+of+the+cream&year_start=1700&year_end=2019&corpus=26&smoothing=3
Did you bother to look at even one of the supposed examples,
to discover whether it was an example of such an idiom?
Or might it have simply found one thesaurus after another, copying
the entry on and on?
I could'nt tell, but one thing is for sure: the construction is productive
as a superlative: "top of the top", "best of the best", "elite of the
elite", etc. - which supports the idiom assumption.
I suppose you have, but chose not to offer, examples of those alien
phrases? (The literal "best of the best" might occur but is not any
sort of idiom.)
Peter Duncanson [BrE]
2021-04-06 18:31:32 UTC
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Permalink
Post by Stefan Ram
(I cannot access all parts of the Web right now, so maybe
I ask something that already is answered there. Sorry!)
I know that some people consider the cream of milk, or,
the "crème de la crème", to be the best part of the milk.
But how does /crop/ come into "the cream of the crop"?
Is it just to make the cr-cr alliteration? (But then it
could also be "cream of the crows" or something else.)
I think that crop has no cream in the literal sense.
"Crop" can also informally mean "a group of people
|the cream of the choicest men of the time
"Diana of the Crossways" - George Meredith
|the cream of the intellect of every generation
"Looking Backward 2000­1887" - Edward Bellamy
. Is it possible that the origin of "cream of the crop"
is a meaning like "the best of the class" where "crop"
stands for the class of a year, not for a plant?
Literally, cream is the part of milk that rises to the top.

When things are ranked according to performance, excellence, etc, the
item at the top of the list is the best.

So, because cream rises to the top it is used as an example of the best.

The OED has this sense of "top":

7.
a. The best or choicest part; the cream, flower, pick.

The second quotation uses both words:

1668 Bp. E. Hopkins Serm. Vanity (1685) 99 The soul, next to
angels, is the very top and cream of the whole creation.

And "cream":

3. figurative. The most excellent element or part; the best of its
kind; the choice part; the quintessence.

First three quotations:

1581 R. Mulcaster Positions xxxix. 198 The gentlemen, which be
the creame of the common.
1624 R. Burton Anat. Melancholy (ed. 2) i. iv. i. 187 I say of
our Melancholy man, hee is the cream of humane adversity.
a1640 P. Massinger City-Madam (1658) i. i. 144 The Cream of the
market.
--
Peter Duncanson, UK
(in alt.usage.english)
Quinn C
2021-04-06 21:46:26 UTC
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Post by Peter Duncanson [BrE]
Post by Stefan Ram
. Is it possible that the origin of "cream of the crop"
is a meaning like "the best of the class" where "crop"
stands for the class of a year, not for a plant?
Literally, cream is the part of milk that rises to the top.
When things are ranked according to performance, excellence, etc, the
item at the top of the list is the best.
So, because cream rises to the top it is used as an example of the best.
I don't find this entirely convincing. Scum also rises to the top. So I
suppose the actual goodness of cream has something to do with it.
--
The bee must not pass judgment on the hive. (Voxish proverb)
-- Robert C. Wilson, Vortex (novel), p.125
Peter Moylan
2021-04-07 03:34:33 UTC
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Post by Quinn C
Post by Peter Duncanson [BrE]
. Is it possible that the origin of "cream of the crop" is a
meaning like "the best of the class" where "crop" stands for the
class of a year, not for a plant?
Literally, cream is the part of milk that rises to the top.
When things are ranked according to performance, excellence, etc,
the item at the top of the list is the best.
So, because cream rises to the top it is used as an example of the best.
I don't find this entirely convincing. Scum also rises to the top. So
I suppose the actual goodness of cream has something to do with it.
Corporations are like septic tanks. The big lumps rise to the top.

I mention this only because the cream of the cream get bonuses even if
they turn out to be scum.
--
Peter Moylan Newcastle, NSW http://www.pmoylan.org
CDB
2021-04-07 13:30:18 UTC
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Post by Quinn C
Post by Peter Duncanson [BrE]
Post by Stefan Ram
. Is it possible that the origin of "cream of the crop"
is a meaning like "the best of the class" where "crop"
stands for the class of a year, not for a plant?
Literally, cream is the part of milk that rises to the top.
When things are ranked according to performance, excellence, etc, the
item at the top of the list is the best.
So, because cream rises to the top it is used as an example of the best.
I don't find this entirely convincing. Scum also rises to the top. So I
suppose the actual goodness of cream has something to do with it.
For good or ill, it's what comes to the top.

"... men whose visages/ Do cream and mantle like a standing pond ...".

_Merchant of Venice_ I,1 ll.94-95

What connotations does the German cognate of "scum", "Schaum" have?
Stefan Ram
2021-04-07 13:45:17 UTC
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Post by CDB
What connotations does the German cognate of "scum", "Schaum" have?
To get the pejorative meaning of "scum", in German, one
has to prefix "Ab-" so as to get "Abschaum".

"Abschaum" (15th century) Originally the impure foam formed
during boiling and melting, which is skimmed off.
Reverted from "abschäumen" "to remove the foam" (the verb
as "abrahmen" to "Rahm", the reversion also in "Abraum" to
"abräumen"). Mainly used figuratively and attested in a
figurative sense even earlier than in the actual meaning.

("Rahm" is the "cream (of milk)", "abrahmen" the removal
of it.)
CDB
2021-04-07 16:48:52 UTC
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Post by CDB
What connotations does the German cognate of "scum", "Schaum"
have?
To get the pejorative meaning of "scum", in German, one has to prefix
"Ab-" so as to get "Abschaum".
"Abschaum" (15th century) Originally the impure foam formed during
boiling and melting, which is skimmed off. Reverted from "abschäumen"
"to remove the foam" (the verb as "abrahmen" to "Rahm", the reversion
also in "Abraum" to "abräumen"). Mainly used figuratively and
attested in a figurative sense even earlier than in the actual
meaning.
("Rahm" is the "cream (of milk)", "abrahmen" the removal of it.)
Ah, thanks.

s***@my-deja.com
2021-04-07 13:54:38 UTC
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Post by Quinn C
Post by Peter Duncanson [BrE]
So, because cream rises to the top it is used as an example of the best.
I don't find this entirely convincing. Scum also rises to the top. So I
suppose the actual goodness of cream has something to do with it.
Cream rises naturally to the top. It is a matter of Specific Gravity.

Scum, on the other hand is often the result of a process like boiling.
The now outdated Bessemer Converter used a current of air
to bring impurities to the top from where they could be skimmed
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