Learn English – Origin of “cream of the crop”


Where does the saying cream of the crop come from? I know it means the best of the lot but I couldn't find anything on how it came to be.

Best Answer

I haven't heard it myself, although I have heard of "cream" being used to refer to as the best. After looking it up, I discovered that someone makes this statement:

Cream is the richest part of the milk and rises to the top. The noun ‘cream’ has been used to mean the best of any collective entity since the 16th century. ‘Cream of the market’ was an early expression using ‘cream’ figuratively and John Ray used the phrase ‘ the cream of the jest’ in his 1678 collection of English proverbs.

Those are pretty early quotes, but is that where "cream of the crop" originated from? Reading on:

‘Cream of the crop’ was undoubtedly adopted for its alliterative appeal and probably borrowed from the French ‘la crème de la crème,’ the cream of the cream, the best of the best, which was well-known in English by about 1800. But exactly when and where the ‘cream of the crop’ first came into use is unknown.

It probably came from French, although this is not absolutely definite.