Where does the saying cream of the crop come from? I know it means the best of the lot but I couldn't find anything on how it came to be.
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I haven't heard it myself, although I have heard of "cream" being used to refer to as the best. After looking it up, I discovered that someone makes this statement:
Those are pretty early quotes, but is that where "cream of the crop" originated from? Reading on:
It probably came from French, although this is not absolutely definite.
The earliest I could find references to the saying was 1800 American. Perhaps someone just mixed up the term "best of the crop" with the term "the cream".
An organizational principle often stated by those at the top of an organization is, "The cream always rises to the top." (Those at the bottom say the organizational model is more like a cesspool, in which the largest chunks of fecal matter rise to the top.)
Cream is the part of milk that concentrates most of the fat. As such, it's often considered the best part of milk, and by extension the best part of anything. This is reinforced by the fact that the cream is what floats to the top. The word for cream can metaphorically mean the best part of something in many European languages. I don't think there's any etymological connection here, rather shared cultural referents (milk as a common foodstuff, valorisation of fat, positive connotation of top over bottom).
There is an earlier expression, crème de la crème (often spelled creme de la creme), which is a borrowing from French (where it means, literally, cream of the cream). In both languages, the expression means metaphorically the best of the best, i.e. the very best. The expression crème de la crème is rather uncommon in French, where I think the use of crème to mean best has declined. The French expression may have had additional appeal in English because French evoked sophistication and the ruling class. In the 20th century, the use of creme de la creme declined (possibly due to the reduced exposure to and influence of French in English-speaking countries), though it has seen a recent revival.
protected by Jason Bourne Jan 15 '13 at 13:37
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