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I have noticed that British people usually say "biscuit" to describe what an American would call a "cookie".

However, I just heard a sports broadcaster in the UK using the metaphor "I wonder when he will raid the cookie jar." So, apparently British people do use the word cookie after all. Is that just an Americanism that the broadcaster was adopting, or do British people normally say cookie, and if so in what situations do they say cookie versus biscuit.

  • Finally the British are learning how to use the English language properly!! – Hot Licks May 5 at 22:28
  • As a Brit, I only use the word cookie when referring to referring to pieces of information stored by websites in my browser program. – TrevorD May 5 at 22:40
  • Nowadays the shelves of British supermarkets/grocery stores are filled with chocolate chip cookies, and (blueberry) muffins. It's the merit (or fault) of Starbucks and other American coffee chain shops. – Mari-Lou A May 5 at 22:52
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    A biscuit and a cookie are different things to me in BrE. Cookies are the thick, slightly soft and chewy, more luxurious ones with pieces of fruit or chocolate in them (originally from the US, I believe); biscuits are the more crumbly, crunchy, plainer ones that are flavoured with sugars, vanilla, etc., in the dough itself and sometimes coated in chocolate. There’s a gray area between the two, of course, where either term is applicable, but chocolate chip biscuits sound as wrong to me as a digestive cookie. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 5 at 23:04
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As a British person, I have always known (and use) the expression

That's the way the cookie crumbles.

given by the Oxford Dictionaries as a North American phrase. However I never buy cookies — even when that word is on the packet — but biscuits.

One British term for a cookie jar is

biscuit barrel
NOUN

British
A small barrel-shaped container for biscuits.

I don't know anybody who keeps biscuits in a jar.

  • Weather Vane - "I don't know anybody who keeps biscuits in a jar." except the people who buy a "Rose Cottage Biscuit Jar" from a certain British homeware company? – Michael Harvey May 6 at 10:07
  • @MichaelHarvey I look forward to an invitation to a home which has one: I don't know anyone who keeps biscuits in a barrel either, but in a tin, yes. – Weather Vane May 6 at 10:09
  • My mother-in-law has a little wooden barrel from which Clubs, Viscounts, Penguins, etc are produced at supper time. – Michael Harvey May 6 at 10:10
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As far as I know they always call cookies biscuits and I have heard them refer to cookie jars as biscuit tins. But perhaps through media coverage we are all being exposed to other culture's use of words. The sportscaster has perhaps had that certain phrase introduced into his vocabulary. Thanks to the internet/media, we now have the pleasure of hearing how other cultures use language and that surely intertwines into how we use it too.

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We do still say 'biscuit' in normal speech and our supermarkets, even the one owned by Walmart, still have biscuit aisles. However we are widely exposed to American culture and in the context of sports commentary "raiding the cookie jar" does work better than "raiding the biscuit tin": somehow "raiding the biscuit tin" just feels much more petty. This is perhaps because, although there is an overlap, an American style cookie tends to be bigger, softer and generally more indulgent than a British biscuit. In fact large, soft, special treat biscuits are sometimes sold as 'cookies' although they are usually so large we would probably not think of them as a 'biscuit' anyway.

Having said that Americanisms do appear in proper English, especially when promoted by American companies. Following the penetration of the British market by McDonalds and Starbucks most vendors of coffee, including iconic British brands, now offer 'regular' cups rather than 'standard' or 'medium'. That is unless they aspire to Italian sophistication and call them 'medio'.

One area where you will hear 'cookie', though, is computing. Small files downloaded to your computer by websites are always called 'cookies'. I can't imagine any British person wanting to change that. In fact most users probably don't even make the connection between leaving the file and presenting a child with a biscuit.

  • in Boston lingo, regular coffee used to mean with cream and sugar, much to the dismay of out-of-towners. Nowadays, I think you have to say coffee regular to get your coffee regular (I don't know for sure ... I drink my coffee without sugar). – Peter Shor May 5 at 23:31
  • @PeterShor I'm strangely gratified that 'regular coffee' can be confusing in Boston. My real problem with using 'regular' for 'ordinary' comes from being old enough to remember when 'being regular' related to bowel movements in the UK as in 'eat your greens, they keep you regular'. The idea of a 'regular coffee' still gives me a small, internal, scatalogical smile: unfortunately it's a term more apt for some coffees than others! – BoldBen May 6 at 3:46
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Okay, I think we have an answer, but unfortunately what has been posted is not very cogent, so I will sum up:

The British call cookies "biscuits". They occasionally use the word "cookie" in the context of using Americanisms like "he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar", or "that's the way the cookie crumbles".

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