Here in Canada, land of theoretical bilingualism, we Anglophones have for the most part embraced our British Empire roots, keeping the monarchy and associated holidays, retaining spellings such as colour, honour, humour, centre, fibre.
However, when it comes to what folks in the now UK call biscuits, we’ve had our own War of Independence and gone with our US neighbours, calling those delightful soupcons of confectionary delight COOKIES.
Our Francophone siblings, les Quebecois of Quebec and les Acadiens of parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, curiously side with their former sworn enemies in Britain and refer to those darling little baked items as biscuits, or sometimes as gateaux secs.
What WE refer to as biscuits are more breadlike, eaten with such delights as baked beans, stew, soup, or as the shortcake part of strawberry shortcake. Well-made, they are light, airy, delightful mixtures of butter, flour, possibly herbs or cheese depending on the use, milk and a wee bit of sugar. Not-well-made, they can be substituted for pucks in a good game of outdoor shimmy (hockey), or could be suspected as lethal weapons going through the ever-increasingly paranoid security mavens at airports.
It’s a good thing for some of us that the word cookie exists. For example, although it’s absurd enough that the tiny bits of information websites leave on our computers are called ‘cookies’, think how much more absurd it would be if they were called ‘biscuits’?
One of my favourite musicians is rocker David Cook, of Blue Springs, Missouri.
(this is him in Montreal in October, where he put on an amazing concert, part of it acoustic. Ignore the screaming fans and wait for the voice. I was in the balcony and did not scream.) This isn’t a digression. Stay with me.
Cook sprang to prominence in 2008 by his appearances on American Idol, which he ultimately won. He won the hearts of millions both with his amazing voice and his dedication to raising funds and awareness about brain cancer, which his older brother suffered from for more than a decade. Some of Cook’s fans in North America are referred to as Cookies (I, however, am not), while his ardent followers in the Philippines call themselves Cookistas. Calling them Biscuities or Biscuitas just somehow wouldn’t work.
But the most culturally significant rationale for the existence of the word Cookie comes to us from the charming address of Sesame Street. Submitted for your approval, one of the most enduringly charming icons of the past two generations, the Cookie Monster, singing his anthem. And for those of us who are enamoured with cookies of all kinds…well, it’s our anthem too.
C is for Cookie, it’s good enough for me. B is for Biscuit just doesn’t warm the heart quite as much, nor would calling that delightful blue fluffball the Biscuit Monster.
Shakespeare had it right, though: What’s in a Name? That which we call a cookie by any other name would taste as sweet (even if it wouldn’t quite scan on Sesame Street).
I now retire to reward myself with a cup of tea and a leftover Christmas sugar cookie. Somehow, we haven’t managed to eat them all yet.