There was an article contributed by Jena McGregor titled ‘Palin’s milk joke goes sour' in Feb 18th Washington Post, which dealt with Salah Palin’s speech mocking Michelle Obama’s recommendation of breastfeeding.

In the following quote from her speech, I don’t understand what the subject of sentence - ‘may that not be the takeaway of this speech’ is, or what ‘takeaway’ means. Does it mean ‘essence’? Cambridge Dictionary online simply define ‘takeaway’ to be ‘a meal cooked and bought at a shops and restaurants but taken often home to be eaten.’ Can you teach me what it means and what the subject of this line is?

When the conversation turned to the escalating price of gas and groceries, Palin reportedly said, "It's no wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody you better breastfeed your baby--yeah, you better--because the price of milk is so high right now!"

It may have just been an attempt to draw a laugh from the crowd over issues--childhood obesity and the medically proven benefits of breastfeeding--that are no laughing matter. But even though she followed up by saying "and may that not be the takeaway, please, of this speech," it has become one of them.”

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    Yes, I think you basically have the concept, except I wouldn't exactly call it "the essence," because to me to say one has found the essence of a thing suggests one has distilled something singular and unique out of it. On the other hand, the "takeaway" of a speech can be different things to different people; the message you draw from the speech might be different from the message I draw from it. "Essence" suggests something that is independent of any one person; "takeaway", as used here, is context-dependent.
    – Uticensis
    Commented Feb 19, 2011 at 1:35
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    Americans use takeout, instead of takeaway (British), to mean fast food taken out of or away from the point of purchase to be eaten elsewhere. However, takeout and takeaway certainly cannot be used interchangeably in this context.
    – Jimi Oke
    Commented Feb 19, 2011 at 3:15
  • When you ask your questions about newspaper articles, please link to the article. It's really easy to do, and the extra context can help readers answer your question. (Also, you can format the quotation by prefixing it with ">".) Commented Feb 19, 2011 at 8:30
  • ShreevatsaR. I think I received the same advice from you to link the source of the text I quote in my question. I wish to do that, but alas, I don’t know how to handle it because of my internet illiteracy - I hope it's permissible at my age. As this forum is not for how to use PC, would you be kind enough to drop a few line to [email protected] just about how to link the text Commented Feb 19, 2011 at 9:05
  • Oh it's really easy: while typing your question, select the title of the article, and either click on the "link" button (third from the left) or press Ctrl-L. Then paste the URL of the article in the box that pops up. This is the easy way, but alternatively one can directly type it as [title](url), like: There was an article titled [‘Palin’s milk…’](http://views.washingtonpost.com/…sour.html) in the newspaper…, with the full title and URL.) Commented Feb 19, 2011 at 11:08

2 Answers 2


It has nothing to do with food. Takeaway in the sense of food is the British version of the American takeout, which is food ordered from a restaurant but picked up and taken away to eat at home.

The takeaway of something is something like the gist:

gist — the substance or essence of a speech or text : she noted the gist of each message.

But you've probably gathered as much already. What I think is confusing to you is this construction:

... and may that not be the takeaway ...

Here may is used as a wishful statement, expressing the hope that a thing may happen. There is probably no better way to illustrate this than with the traditional Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

The speaker here is expressing the wish or hope that all these good things will happen to the recipient of the blessing. If you were to write it another way, it would be something like

I pray it may happen that the road will rise up to meet you ... etc.

In a different light, prisoners condemned to be executed used to be read the statement of their sentence (i.e. punishment by being put to death) and at the end of that statement the official would say, "And may God have mercy on your soul." This was not a blessing, like the Irish one above, but something more like a pro forma dismissal.

In view of all this, Sarah Palin was telling people she hopes that the laugh she got from the crowd would not be all that was remembered from what she said. In a sense, she wanted to get the laugh from her statement but not really take responsibility for it.


In this context, takeaway means the message or lesson that is taken away from an experience; that which is remembered from it. It may or may not be the "essence", but it's the part that stays with you. Or, to repeat the idiom, that you take away with you.

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