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":
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.
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
Peter Duncanson, UK