In British English, my friend informed me that my use of the word cookie was incorrect in referring to a baked item having no chocolate bits in it. Instead the appropriate term would have to be biscuit, as cookie always required some form of chocolate to be inside the biscuit.

Is this assertion correct?

The Oxford dictionary only explains the meaning in American English, not British English: "A sweet biscuit."

In case this is relevant, the object in question was a slightly sweet ginger-biscuit/cookie.

  • As an AmEng speaker, I can't answer this question directly - but I can tell you that the "object in question" is called a "ginger snap" in AmEng (at least if it's baked to be crunchy - soft-baked ginger cookies are just called "ginger cookies", or "Gingeroos" if you buy them at Trader Joe's.) I believe that what we call "ginger snaps" are known as "ginger nuts" in BrEng and AussieEng. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginger_nut – MT_Head May 7 '14 at 17:30
  • As you're no doubt aware, in AmEng "cookie" is applied to (just about) all* small, sweet pastries, with or without chocolate; "biscuit", in fact, generally refers only to UNsweetened biscuits. This occasionally leads to confusion. – MT_Head May 7 '14 at 17:36
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    I never asked myself this question when wondering about letting a website leave cookies on my computer... – oerkelens May 7 '14 at 18:18
  • @oerkelens: Just think of how the internet would be if the people at Netscape would have been British :) – bitmask May 9 '14 at 18:16

Until recently, cookie was a foreign word in British English: because of American TV and films, most people knew that it was American for biscuit.

Cookie is now familiar for the large, sweet, not-very-crunchy confections sold in shopping malls. They come in various flavours, and don't have to have chocolate.

I don't think anybody I know would call traditional-style English biscuits (whether Bath Oliver, Malted Milk, Garibaldi, Ginger nut, Fig roll, or even Hobnob) "cookies".

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  • Since the Oxford Dictionaries Online defines biscuit as A small baked unleavened cake, typically crisp, flat, and sweet, is crispness the difference between a cookie and a biscuit in the U.K.? – Peter Shor May 7 '14 at 18:30
  • No, or not entirely. Biscuits are far more varied than cookies, and some of them are distinctly less crunchy than cookies (eg fig rolls). – Colin Fine May 7 '14 at 22:15
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    I think very few native speakers of English -- British or American -- would describe fig rolls as a type of biscuit. They belong in their own separate category. – Erik Kowal May 8 '14 at 1:35
  • @ErikKowal: Wikipedia does – bitmask May 9 '14 at 18:12
  • I'm unconvinced that fig rolls are biscuits, no matter what Wikipedia says, but we get both crisp and chewy 'cookies' in the UK. – StuartQ Nov 3 '17 at 11:35

Firstly, in British English, a cookie is a biscuit, just a specific kind.

As a British English speaker, I would say cookies don't have to include chocolate, although they usually do. I would go further and say that cookies have a very specific meaning here - they are round, flat and contain chips (typically chocolate). If there are no chips, but are covered in chocolate then they are simply a chocolate biscuit.

So, these are cookies, irrespective of whether they are crisp or chewy:


I did try to find an image of cookies without chocolate chips (e.g just nuts), but they invariably do contain chocolate, although sometimes white. Nevertheless I believe a macadamia chip cookie just about qualifies

Whereas, these are chocolate biscuits.

Chocolate biscuits

And this is an ordinary biscuit


And this non-cookie status for chocolate biscuits also extends to sandwich style biscuits, so this is not a cookie either: enter image description here

And incidentally the above image is far inferior to this UK delight Bourbon

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    You can get cookies that don't have chocolate in them though. What about macademia nut cookies, for example? If containing chocolate chips were a requirement for being called a cookie, then it would be redundant to have "chocolate chip cookies". – John Clifford Nov 3 '17 at 11:44
  • I stand corrected, I forgot about those. I suppose the definition is "chips". I'll edit my answer. – StuartQ Nov 3 '17 at 12:22
  • Although if you then added raisins, then all bets are off. That's not a cookie is it? Even though I've made the edit, I'm still not entirely convinced that you can have a cookie without chocolate chips, especially since I couldn't actually find any in an image search! – StuartQ Nov 3 '17 at 12:31
  • We do have raisin cookies too. bettycrocker.com/recipes/oatmeal-raisin-cookies/… – John Clifford Nov 3 '17 at 12:54
  • @JohnClifford That's a bridge too far for me. – StuartQ Nov 3 '17 at 12:58

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