Take the cake
Posted: 16 January 2009 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Any connection between cakewalk, originally a dance/walk contest wherein a cake was awarded to the winners, and the phrase take the cake ? OED makes no specific link, but it does allude to such to in the definition for cakewalk, referencing Thornton’s American Glossary, 1912

1. a. ‘A walking competition among negroes, in which the couple who put on most style “take the cake”’ (Thornton).  b. A dance modelled on this.

It does seem tempting to connect them. First cite for cakewalk in OED is 1879, although there is a slightly earlier figurative use. Take the cake, in the sense take the honours is cited from 1884. (I don’t think he 1847 and 1854 cites fit the bill.)

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Posted: 16 January 2009 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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OED on “take the cake”:

7. a. Cake is often used figuratively in obvious allusion to its estimation (esp. by children) as a ‘good thing’, the dainty, delicacy, or ‘sweets’ of a repast. So cakes and ale, cake and cheese (Scotl.). to take the cake, (U.S. cakes): to carry off the honours, rank first; often used ironically or as an expression of surprise. Cf. BISCUIT 1d.

1579 [see 2]. 1601 SHAKES. Twel. N. II. iii. 124 Dost thou thinke because thou art vertuous, there shall be no more Cakes and Ale? 1606 DAY Ile of Gulls III. i. (1881) 68 That’s Cake and Cheese to the Countrie. 1847 W. T. PORTER Quarter Race Kentucky 120 They got up a horse and fifty dollars in money a side,..each one to start and ride his own horse,..the winning horse take the cakes. 1854 Blackw. Mag. LXXVI. 702 Malcolm is, par excellence, the ‘cake’ of the corps dramatique. 1884 Lisbon (Dakota) Star 25 July, Sherriff Moore takes the cake for the first wheat-harvesting in Ransom county. 1886 Garden 5 June 519/1 The gardener’s life, as a rule, is not all ‘cakes and ale’. 1886 Pall Mall G. 2 Sept. 5/1 As a purveyor of light literature..Mr. Norris takes the cake. 1900 T. DREISER Sister Carrie xxiii. 249 Pack up and pull out, eh? You take the cake. 1904 A. BENNETT Great Man xxv. 275 My bold buccaneer, you take the cake… There is something about you that is colossal, immense, and magnificent. 1938 G. HEYER Blunt Instr. ix. 158 I’ve met some kill-joys in my time, but you fairly take the cake.

So it seems as if “cakewalk” is related to “take the biscuit”

d. Colloq. phr. to take the biscuit: to ‘take the cake’ (see CAKE n. 7).

1907 G. B. SHAW John Bull’s other Island III. 76 All you know is ah to ahl [howl] abaht it. You take the biscuit at that, you do

and derives from the sense of “cake” referred to in “cakes and ale” and “take the cake” dated from the first citation from horseracing of 1847, though there’s no specific evidence in OED, as you say.

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Posted: 16 January 2009 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I found many claims that “take the cake” comes from “cakewalk”, or vice-versa, but no hard evidence, though it seems plausible. I’m more inclined to accept the 1847 cite ("the winning horse [to] take the cakes") than you are.

An interesting variant was discussed on the old board: Takes the chromo.

(Not meaning to ignore or mantle Eliza; there was a lengthy interruption by a visitor to my office as I was writing this post.)

[ Edited: 16 January 2009 12:24 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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