Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

That’s How The Cookie Crumbles

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 30, 2015

When life happens and you can’t change or control the outcome, you have no other option than to accept the outcome and live with the results.  At this point, people will sometimes tell you that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  The British may say such is life while the French may say c’est la vie, but for most of us, we say that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

While some don’t worry sweat the small stuff like cookies crumbling, some are so focused on getting to the cause or causes that they devote serious research to the subject.  Such was the case back in 2003 when a PhD student from Loughborough University decided it was high time the mystery was solved.  Thanks to his work being published in the Institute of Physics journal “Measurement, Science, and Technology” others who pondered the same question were now able to read the data in Qasim Saleem’s research paper, “A Novel Application Of Speckle Interferometry For The Measurement Of Strain Distributions In Semi-Sweet Biscuits.”

So while bakers have known the answer for generations, since 2003, scientists have also been privy to that answer.  And no, I’m not pranking you, dear reader.

It was on April 5, 1990 that the Spokane Chronicle announced that a Girl Scout in Bend, Oregon had been the victim of a con artist.  A counterfeit $5 bill was passed to the Girl Scout who had been selling cookies outside a local K-Mart store the previous Sunday.  The article was entitled, “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles” … a rather mean headline for such a story in light of the fact that this story was about an unethical adult victimizing a child.

The Girl Scouts seem to have gotten more than just a little attention with that headline for other related stories.  The Bryan Times reported on January 24, 1984 that in Tennessee they would expected to collect sales taxes on the cookies they were selling and to remit the amount collected beginning in 1985.  In previous years, the Girl Scouts had failed to collected sales taxes on cookie sales.  As with the story in 1990, the story in 1984 was entitled, “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles.”

And in the Tuscaloosa News in Alabama, a little news story tucked into the April 10, 1969 edition mentioned that in Detroit (Michigan), after already having spent thirteen months in jail awaiting trial, Fred Jackson would continue to cool his heels in jail because he couldn’t post the $10,000 USD bond required to make bail.  Because of overcrowded dockets and undermanned courtrooms, Fred Jackson’s trial had been postponed five times.  Finally, it was reported that the trial was slated for the following Monday.  Charged with having stolen five boxes of cookies, the article was entitled, “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles.”

You’d imagine that the word cookies has been around nearly as long as cookies have been, but you’d mistaken if you believe that.  You see, the Dutch word for a little cake is koekje (pronounced the way you’d pronounce cookie in English) and the word was adopted by the British in 1703.   And you’d imagine that shortly after the word was incorporated into English, that the phrase would show up shortly thereafter.  But it seems that the crumbliness of cookies wasn’t a topic of discussion among most people in the 18th century.

In the fiction book “The Knute Rockne Kid” by Frank J. Bruno, the expression is used in the dialogue in Chapter 48 that recounts a situation that happened in the hospital on December 11, 1948.  In this part of the book, Mario Calvino (the protagonist of the novel) and Norm Cooper (the antagonist that eventually becomes his friend) are talking.

Tears were flowing down my cheeks.
“Come on, sap.  What are you feeling miserable about?”
“I feel like it’s all my fault.”
“Again, Mario, you’re full of shit.  All you did was pass the ball and place it where it was supposed to be.  I caught it and ran for the touchdown.  What else were you supposed to do?  What else was I supposed to do?”
“Nothing.”
“That’s right.  We both did the right thing.  It’s just the way the cookie crumbles.”
As he was talking, I noticed, or imagined that I noticed, his jaw moved mechanically and stiffly, like the jaw of a ventriloquist’s dummy.  It dawned on me that Norm was using a massive amount of willpower to retain his composure.  He was showing to me that he was a human being with great character and courage.

However, this book was published in 2015, and the use of the expression in this book doesn’t necessarily prove that it was in use in 1948.

The good news is that on November 17, 1958 a country & western song recorded by Johnnie and Jack for the RCA Victor label was making ripples according to Billboard magazine was entitled, “Poison Love.”  On the B side was “That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles.”

So we know that fans of country & western music were familiar with the idiom in the fifties.

Slightly more than thirty years earlier, in 1927, American actor, playwright, screenwriter, and producer, Edward Bartlett Cormack (19 March 1898 – 26 September 1942) wrote a play entitled, “The Racket” that was also made into a film by the same name the following year.  The movie was one of the first to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1929 back when it was still called “Best Picture, Production.”

SIDE NOTE:  The play and movie were banned in Chicago because of the portrayal of a corrupt police force, a corrupt city government, and the gangsters who controlled both the police force and the city government.  Keep in mind that during this time period, Al Capone and his organization were an integral part of Chicago’s workings.

The movie used more idioms than Carter has little liver pills, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles slipped in alongside others like ‘his goose is cooked‘ and ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’

At this point, the trail went cold, and Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of this idiom.  However, because it was used in “The Racket” in 1928, it was expected that the moving picture audience would understand what was meant.  Idiomation therefore pegs the idiom to sometime in the early 1920s or late 1910s.

Idiomation would have loved to pinpoint the very first published version of this idiom, but as the saying goes, sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles.

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