|A stack of biscuits. Or are they? Yes. They clearly are.|
(photo by Caro Wallis)
Noun & adjective. Also bisket (obsolete). Middle English.
[Old French bescuit (modern biscuit), ultimately from Latin bis twice + coctus past participle of coquere to cook.]
1a. A piece of usually unleavened cake or bread of various ingredients,
usually crisp, dry and hard, and in a small flat thin shape. ME
1b. A small round cake like a scone. N.American. E19
2. Porcelain or other ware which has undergone firing but no further treatment. L18
3. A light-brown colour regarded as characteristic of biscuits. L19
4. Each other the three square sections of a soldier's mattress. E20
5. CARPENTRY. A small round or oval piece of wood, a row of which are glued or wedged
into semicircular slots in each of two pieces of wood in order to join them together. M20
B. Attributive or as adjective. Of the colour of biscuit, light-browned. L19
biscuit-like adjective resembling a biscuit M19
biscuity adjective resembling a biscuit in texture, flavour, colour, etc. L19
The other day at the beach, some friends and I entered into a spirited debate on the difference between a biscuit and a cracker. This discussion was precipitated by me calling TUC crackers "biscuits" and, as I apparently have a reputation as a bit of a pedant, some were quick to pounce on this perceived bêtise. "They're not biscuits!" they hollered. "They're crackers! Look! It even says 'crackers' on the packet!" So sad. So very, very sad.
It should be noted that we were on the rather remote beach at Fanore in Co. Clare. Therefore, our smartphones rendered impotent by lack of coverage, it was just like days of yore, arguing by wits alone, without some numpty sitting in the corner spoiling everyone's fun by looking up everything on Wikipedia and smugly announcing the answers as if he were the font of all knowledge.
So, what is the difference between a biscuit and a cracker? Various arguments were put forward. I maintained that a cracker is a type of biscuit, one that is typically thinner and more brittle. Others posited that a cracker is a type of bread while a biscuit is a type of cake, or that crackers are always savoury while biscuits are always sweet. I asserted that biscuits are not always sweet, and put forward Weetabix as an example of a savoury biscuit, to which someone countered that Weetabix cannot be savoury because you can put sugar on them. I think the moment someone shouted "What about Christmas crackers?" was the moment we realised it was all getting a little silly, and an awkward silence fell over Fanore.
As silly as it was (and as wrong as they all were), it well illustrates both the pettiness of man and the intrinsic difficulty in defining words, especially those words that have some kind of cultural significance. Biscuit is a prime example of a familiar word with a difficult definition. Americans and Britons, for example, have very different ideas of what a biscuit is. The British or Irish biscuit would be called a cookie in the US, whereas if someone here offered you a cookie and then handed you a digestive biscuit, you'd feel a little hard done by (akin to someone saying they're taking you out to a restaurant, only to take you out to a McDonald's Restaurant).
Biscuit, incidentally, literally means twice cooked (Latin bis + coctus), which is rather interesting. And if you're still wondering what constitutes a cracker, the OED defines it as "a thin dry biscuit." Which seems to settle the argument in my favour, right? I mean, I don't want to go on about it but it does. So there. Twice cooked? Twice burned, more like. Ouch.
How do you differentiate between a biscuit, a cookie and a cracker?
Are there any pertinent factors that our skilled debaters failed to consider?
Do we need to ask ourselves what we're doing with our lives?
Do please comment below (with extra points for biscuity puns).