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Cream of the crop?

[ 2011-01-21 16:37]     字号 [] [] []  
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Cream of the crop?

Reader question:

Please explain “cream of the crop” in the following: “We are doing well but we know we are not the cream of the crop yet. We must keep working hard.”

My comments:

That’s a great self-assessment, by the way. The modesty and willingness to keep working hard will help you, or anyone, go far. Sounds like a 40 something talking. This attitude, the self-awareness, I mean, we don’t usually associate with the 1980s generation or younger, who all seem to be too full of themselves to be taken seriously. At least it often sounds that way when an older ear hears a youngster talk.

The youngster will come along, though, in good time. Or the oldsters will learn to appreciate the young generation better. One way or the other.

Anyways, “cream of the crop” is just another creative way of saying you’re best of the bunch.

Or, simply, the best.

Cream refers to the foamy top of, say, a cup of milk, the part that always “rises to the top”. As Mavens’ Word of the Day (June 8, 2001) explains, it’s the “milkiest part of the milk”:

At least in lactose-tolerant regions of the world, where milk is a significant food source even for adults, the cream has probably been looked upon since prehistory as the richest, sweetest, choicest part; the part that rises to the top; the milkiest part of the milk; its very essence. As a luxurious and highly desirable food, skimmed from the milk to be relished alone, whipped, or made into butter, it easily provided a ready and clear metaphor for “the best” or “the quintessential representative” of anything.

Crop, of course, refers to the all the harvests of one year. And so, if they say you’re the cream of the crop or, in fact, the cream of anything (the group, the profession, the industry, the next generation, the camp, county, country or continent), or simply the cream, they’re merely saying you’re the very best (perhaps not merely, but my point is, don’t read too much into it – no need to take other people’s compliments too seriously).

Or, in other words, you’re the top.

As Ella Fitzgerald sings Cole Porter:

You’re the top! You’re the Collosseum,

You’re the top! You’re the Louvre Museum,

You’re the melody from a symphony by Strauss,

You’re a Bendel bonnet,

A Shakespeare Sonnet,

You’re Mickey Mouse!

You’re the Nile! You’re the Tow’r of Pisa,

You’re the smile, on the Mona Lisa!

I’m a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop!

But if baby I’m the bottom,

You’re the top!

Full stop.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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