I just watched the movie The apartment (by Billy Wilder, 1960) and hear the main character say:

That's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise

I kind of understand it as "that's life", as someone would say while sighing. But I wonder: what is the origin of it? Am I right about its meaning?


According to A Dictionary of Catch Phrases, American and British...by Eric Patridge,

That's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise meaning:

  • that's how (the situation) has turned out, and there is nothing you can do about it
  • has been a frequent catch phrase from the 50's in the US and in the UK from the mid 60's.

An early usage example is from the "Michigan Courthouse Review" 1951:

  • Just shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, that's the way the ball bounces" or, " That's the way the cookie crumbles" or some similar parrot-like phrase. Sit back. Let the world pass by. If you don't like what you see, imitate the ostrich and stick ...

Ngram shows usage of the depression from the mid 50's.

  • 2
    Note that Partridge's Dictionary of Catch Phrases is talking about the expression "that's the way the cookie crumbles" in the wording you quote/paraphrase—not the expression "that's the way it crumbles cookiewise," which Billy Wilder invented for his movie The Apartment. – Sven Yargs Mar 23 '16 at 3:16

It was a common saying: "That's the way the cookie crumbles." But the "-wise" ending is a Madison Avenue stereotype for any subject one wants to address. It was funny to hear it phrased that way at the time, and rather a satire on the culture. That is, not only on the Madison Ave culture, but the "fast" culture of picking up women and using them -- I also think a lot of the verbal clues in this movie are hits on the Rat Pack lifestyle, including the "-wise" and other sayings, like "Ring a ding ding" (a kind of Sinatra trademark), even "shut up and deal" is an allusion to a particular kind of lifestyle and the ways in which women were used


There is an idiom (perhaps a proverb by now): That's the way the cookie crumbles. The writers just put a slight twist on it.


By way of supporting Janine's remark (in a separate answer) that the suffix -wise enjoyed skyrocketing use in the decade leading up to 1960, when The Apartment (directed by Billy Wilder) was released, here is an Ngram chart tracking use of the word moneywise across 1800–2008:

That particular term appears in print as early as in Theodore Hook, Gervase Skinner (1828):

...although, to ensure these pecuniary and popular advantages, he disbursed in fact ten times more of his worldly substance in kind, than would, if he had properly disposed of it, moneywise, have secured him all the privileges he desired, and all the popularity he courted.

But the vast majority of the occurrences of moneywise are from 1950 or later. For example, from Gene Wallace, "What Kind of Boat Shall I Buy?," in Motor Boating (January 1952):

Don't be swayed by non-essentials. The hull is the most important thing, then comes the power plant (engine and/or sails, spars and rigging). Next consider condition and completeness of equipment—surprising how much equipment adds up to. Location of the boat is important too, time and moneywise.

Taking a cue from the Motor Boating quotation, I also created an Ngram Chart for timewise for the period 1800–2008. Here it is:

Garland Cannon, An Integrated Transformational Grammar of the English Language, volume 8 (1978) has this to say about the embrace of the -wise suffix in U.S. popular culture:

A fourth suffix descended from Old English, -wise, occurs in crosswise, leastwise, likewise, and otherwise. It has been madly attracted to nouns in recent decades, as in moneywise and stylewise.

Stylewise, though, is something of an early bloomer (and early rotter) among -wise constructions, as this Ngram chart for the word over the period 1800–2008 indicates:

Cookiewise is a joke term, alluding to the -wise madness of the era. Eric Partridge & Paul Beale, A Dictionary of Catch Phrases (1986)—also cited in user66974's answer—mentions it in a longer entry for the widespread catch-phrase "That's the way the cookie crumbles":

... in 1975, Prof. Emeritus F.E.L. Priestley spoke of 'the now happily obsolete "that's the way the cookie crumbles"' and referred to 'the lovely takeoff line in the movie The Apartment [1960] when Jack Lemmon says, "That's the way it crumbles cookiewise"'—when he is also deriding 'the horrible “-wise" jargon of about ten years ago'(F.E.L.P.).

There are zero Google Books matches for cookiewise prior to 1960, indicating that the word was indeed Billy Wilder's invention. However, the suffix -wise is attachable to any number of root noun's as its entry in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) indicates:

-wise adv comb form {ME, fr. OE -wīsan, fr. wīse manner} 1 a : in the manner of {crabwise} {fanwise} b : in the position or direction of {slantwise} {clockwise} 2 : with regard to: in respect of {dollarwise}

So, whether you want to say "in the manner of a cookie," "in the position or direction of a cookie," or "with regard to or in respect of a cookie," cookiewise has you covered (with crumbs).

  • What you've illustrated is that the use of the suffix "-wise" was often more impulsive than wise. – Hot Licks Mar 23 '16 at 3:24

Hmm. Nothing to argue with in all preceding learned answers except, I submit, they all miss the point. The central character of The Apartment, C. C. 'Bud' Baxter, is tempted in the story to climb the corporate ladder. He adopts the style of another of the movie's characters, Mr Kirkaby, who is already on the ladder. Mr Kirkaby's defining characteristic is his penchant for making sentences having contrived -wise adverbs. EG "Premiumwise and billingwise we are 10% ahead of last year Octoberwise." It's a movie still worth watching, I submit.


...."that's life" suggests more pridictability than does "...cookie crumbles". If you decide not to take your umbrella because it's cloudy but not raining and it starts raining then "that's life"...if you get hit by lightning, then "that's the way the cookie crumbles". dvdmacd

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