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From another question I found out that Australians and New Zealanders call lunch and snacks crib.

On the Macquarie dictionary site, there are several (user-contributed) theories about why, but nothing authoritative. These all seem to agree that it's a mining term likely from the Cornish dialect, but disagree as to its original meaning.

User067531 provided the link to Macquarie's in his answer here.

I was unable to find anything on Etymonline or elsewhere showing this derivation.

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    user067531 has given great answers to both questions, but it is still unclear to me which term gave rise to which and which is primordial, despite the early textual attestations user067531's answer cites here (which is why I do not consider this mystery solved and have yet to accept their answer).
    – Eddie Kal
    Oct 3, 2019 at 0:10
  • I found this line in an article seemingly by an Auzzie: "...farm workers, miners and mill workers often alternated between that and ‘crib’: a term that references the food contained in the crib bag these labourers would usually carry with them." The author appears to suggest the name of the bag came first. Lunch/snack is called "crib" because it is carried in a crib bag.
    – Eddie Kal
    Oct 3, 2019 at 0:11
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    @EddieKal that kind of back formation would imply that crib held another meaning that attached itself to the bag and hence the contents.
    – David M
    Oct 3, 2019 at 0:18
  • For what it's worth, I've never heard it used. Could be a regional thing, but it definitely isn't common Australia-wide.
    – Adeptus
    Oct 3, 2019 at 7:59
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    @Adeptus I think it seems to be prevalent amongst areas with mining communities.
    – David M
    Oct 3, 2019 at 8:06

8 Answers 8

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Ok I just looked it up in the OED, which is what I should have done yesterday. The first recorded usage of crib to mean "food" or "a light meal" predates James Cook, i.e. the first European contact with Australia.

dialect, Australian, and New Zealand. Food, provisions; a light meal or snack; a piece of bread, cake, etc. Frequently attributive.

  • 1652 R. Brome Joviall Crew ii. sig. F3 Here's Pannum and Lap, and good Poplars of Yarrum, To fill up the Crib, and to comfort the Quarron.
  • 1825 J. Jamieson Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang. Suppl. (at cited word) Haste ye, and gi'e me ma..crib, Guid-wife.
  • 1872 Notes & Queries 4th Ser. 9 47/1 The gift..was generally a small cake..and was called the ‘christening crib’—a crib of bread or cake being a provincialism for a bit of bread, &c.
  • 1880 M. A. Courtney W. Cornwall Words in M. A. Courtney & T. Q. Couch Gloss. Words Cornwall 15/2 Crib, a crust of bread; fragments of meat. ‘Eat up your cribs.’
  • 1881 Trans. Amer. Inst. Mining Engineers 1880–1 9 124 Crib...3. A miner's luncheon.
  • 1889 Daily News 4 Apr. 4/8 In the pocket of each of the garments was a pasty and a ‘crib’ (apparently a small loaf).
  • 1904 ‘G. B. Lancaster’ Sons o' Men 159 Sereld..growled because someone had spilt tobacco-ash into his crib—which is bushman for dinner.
  • 1908 Westm. Gaz. 13 May 6/1 Half an hour's ‘crib’ time [at Blackball, N.Z.] is also granted.
  • 1926 K. S. Prichard Working Bullocks xi. 108 Red picked up his crib-bag.
  • 1928 J. Devanny Dawn Beloved xxx. 273 He stopped..to hang up his towel and crib tin.
  • 1942 A. L. Rowse Cornish Childhood ii. 30 He used to take it to work with him and at crib-time (i.e. lunch-time) would entertain his fellows with it.
  • 1947 A. Vogt in D. M. Davin N.Z. Short Stories (1953) 364 Ben went to work [in the bush] each day like the rest of the men, with his crib and oil-skin.
  • 1954 Coast to Coast 1953–4 37 Jacques was holding out his crib. ‘Time to eat.’.. Crib over, the men rolled cigarettes.
  • 1971 J. Turner Stone Dormitory iii. 30 ‘Just come in for me crib. It's time.’.. ‘It's ready for you, Tom,’ she said, putting the bread and cheese and tea before him.

Based off of this I am not so sure about Cornish though. Richard Brome was English who as far as I can find spent his adult life in London, and John Jameson was Scottish.

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Probably, as suggested by GDoS, from the following sense of crib:

crib n.2

(SE crib, a container for animal fodder)

  1. (Aus./N.Z.) a snack, a light meal, a piece of bread, cake etc; thus crib bag, crib break, crib room, cribtime.

    • 1870 [UK] Old Hunks in Darkey Drama 5 53: harry: I’m witness that you promised to give Tommy something better than a crib. tommy: A good round dinner.

    • 1900–10 [Aus] Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.] 52: CRIB: miners term for a twenty-minute interval for food or smoke-ho, known as crib-time; and lunch carried to work is known as crib.

The Cornish origin seems plausible. From List of Cornish dialect words:

Crib - a mid-morning break for a snack.

The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.) has "Food, provisions, light meal, etc." (dialectal) as one of the meanings of "crib" giving several examples including quotations from M. A. Courtney's Glossary (1880) and Rowse's Cornish Childhood (1942).

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In underground mining cribbage is used to support the ground and areas where men would congregate to eat were called crib rooms these areas were generally safer than nearer the active mining areas. Moving on it is a common expression to this day (in the WA Goldfields) to take your crib to work and it is eaten mid shift. Underground workers and miners always had a crib tin as the environment was wet and also there were rats about and they would eat your food. The first thing I got when I started work in a gold mine many years ago was a crib tin.

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One possible explanation, is there’s lots of Welsh miners that would have travelled over to Australia & New Zealand from Wales, UK.

Thus, 'crib' is a Welsh word, for high ground, being a crest, peak, ridge, summit and therefore the shed or ‘lunch room’ would have been on high ground of a deep mine.

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    Aug 16, 2023 at 2:00
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I’m from Cornwall UK and this is definitely a Cornish term. Most people use this term for elevenses or mid morning. Usually moreso amongst farmers, fisherman, builders and once miners. Crib is mid morning, lunch is dinner and dinner is tea when you live in Cornwall! Karen

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    Could you give some examples or back your information with links to the research that you have done?
    – fev
    Dec 13, 2020 at 15:24
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The OED etymology of the word relates "crib" to a container: A common West Germanic noun: Old English crib(b) (feminine) = Old Frisian cribbe , Old Saxon kribbja (Middle Dutch cribbe , Dutch krib , kribbe ), Old High German chrippa (Middle High German and modern German krippe ).

1 a. A barred receptacle for fodder used in cowsheds and fold-yards;

1847 F. Marryat Children of New Forest I. v. 94 The animal could move about a little and eat out of the crib.

The OED continues along the "food container" vein:

Supposed to be etymologically related to Middle High German krebe masculine basket, which may again stand in ablaut relation to korb, corf

I suspect that the link for "crib" in the sense of "lunch" is between the container for cattle food and the container for human food - and hence, by extension, the food that was in it.

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My father was Cornish born and bred and his family tree as far as can be traced was Cornish. He and his farming colleagues referred to crib, a crib-bag, and crib-break. Crib referred to food usually eaten mid-morning (certainly between main meals); his crib bag was a canvas bag about 30x30cm and 10 cm deep that had a shoulder strap; his crib also included a thermos flask of tea.

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  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
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    Jun 25, 2022 at 16:38
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The Christmas carol Away in a Manger refers to "a crib for a bed" This was an English literation which seems to have come from the old German word Krippa. (a lot of English words have Germanic origins) Krippa refers to a manger or animal food trough. This seems to have been later borrowed to refer feed bags also as they came into use. It is only a small leap to also refer to a human lunch bag as a crib bag. Farmer vernacular regularly borrows from livestock behavior when referring to human behavior, for example, "hitting the hay" as another way to say going to bed.

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  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Jan 29, 2023 at 2:36
  • What is your source? This reads like missing code.
    – livresque
    Jan 29, 2023 at 2:39
  • The carol refers to "no crib for a bed".
    – psmears
    Aug 16, 2023 at 10:32

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