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“That’s the way the cookie crumbles”: Meaning & Examples

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles”: Meaning & Examples

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An integral part of becoming fluent in any language is learning their idiomatic expressions.

After all, if you want to have a full-on conversation with a native English speaker, they are bound to use expressions like “give someone the cold shoulder” and “go on a wild goose chase.”

And, unless you know what these expressions mean, you’ll be left there, scratching your head and feeling lost.

So, what makes idioms difficult to understand?

First off, idioms can be cultural, which means that famous British expressions may be completely esoteric to someone living in the United States, even when both people are fluent English speakers.

For instance, in Britain, if you tell someone that “you’re going to give them a bunch of fives,” you’re basically telling them that you plan to punch them. However, the same expression has no meaning to an American.

Another difficulty is that a lot of idiomatic meanings derive their meanings historically. As a result, some idioms make no sense when you stop to think about them.

When you think about it, how can you wish someone good luck by telling them to “break a leg”?

And, how does saying “fat chance” mean that something will never happen, while saying “slim chance” means that there is a small probability that it might happen?

We could go on forever.

All that said, the biggest difficulty with idioms is probably their peculiar use of imagery.

There are expressions like “going cold turkey,” “a piece of cake,” and “the way the cookie crumbles,” all of which are nearly impossible to decipher unless someone explains them to you.

But, even though “going cold turkey” and “a piece of cake” are relatively well known, “the way the cookie crumbles” is obscure in comparison. So, let’s take a closer look at this little known phrase.


What is the meaning of “that’s the way the cookie crumbles”?

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles” is something you say when something bad or unfortunate happens, and you have to accept it because there was no way of avoiding it in the first place. In fact, this unfortunate situation could be entirely unfair. Nevertheless, it is important to accept it all the same. It’s sort of a fatalistic thing to say, and it is similar to “it is what it is.” But, it also has a sense of stoicism, a sense of accepting the hardships of life with a stiff upper lip.

That’s the way the cookie crumbles


How to use the expression “that’s the way the cookie crumbles”

Obviously, this expression is best used after something bad has happened, something unalterable and unchangeable.


I can’t believe my team lost the final. They were in the lead for the entire match. Aaah, well, I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

I was so surprised to learn that my flight had been canceled at the last minute. It might have been extremely inconveniencing, but I’ve always known that that’s the way the cookie crumbles.


Where the expression comes from

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles” is very similar to the French expression “c’est la vie,” which translates to “that’s life.”

However, the meaning of “c’est la vie,” which doesn’t necessarily coincide with the direct translation, is that life is filled with surprises, both good and bad, and that we can do little to control either. So, the best we can do is accept our fate.

Ergo, whenever a French man goes through an unpleasant experience, they are liable to just shrug their shoulder, say, “c’est la vie,” and move on with their lives.

But, then, why use a “cookie” in the idiom? What does a “cookie” have to do with the unfairness in life?

Well, for one thing, if a cookie isn’t consumed while it is still fresh, it becomes soggy and crumbles quickly. More importantly, once a cookie crumbles to pieces, you can’t put it back together again.


Usage of the cookie expression over time

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles” has been around since the middle of the twentieth century.

For instance, in 1955, Ollie M. James wrote in a column named “Innocent Bystander,” which was in The Cincinnati Enquirer, the following sentence.

Well, as we say in the publishing business, sometimes that is the way the cookie crumbles.

Another case of it being used can be seen in The Muncie Star of the 28th of February 1955. In that issue, William Edward Vaughan, an American author and columnist, wrote in his column “Senator Soaper Says” the following sentence.

The teen-age lovely down the street reports that her father is unbearably square. To express a certain fatalism he still says, “That’s the way the ball bounces” instead of “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

More recently, the idiomatic expression was used in the Jim Carrey movie “Bruce Almighty.” At the beginning of the movie, Carrey plays a news reporter who is covering a shop that is trying to bake a really big cookie.

Anyway, after telling the story, Carrey’s character is signing off and he ends his report with, “But, what are we really looking at here? Is it just a big cookie?

Or, does this cookie represent the pride of Buffalo?

Its dedicated and hardworking citizens, the key ingredients, with a few nuts thrown in, and finally, the love of our families, which provides the warm chewy center, making our beloved Buffalo the sweetest place to live.

And, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan. Eyewitness News”

After the movie came out, the popularity of the expression took off.


Can the cookie crumble in other ways?

It is also interesting to note that the phrase “when the cookie crumbled” does not mean the same thing as “how the cookie crumbles.”

While “how the cookie crumbles” is a fatalistic statement asserting that we have little control over life, “when the cookie crumbled” is an expression used to signify that things have irrevocably changed.

It may not be a popular expression, but you might as well know it.

For instance, back in 1956, Bob Well wrote in the Long Beach Independent the following.

A few minutes later Ted was heard to inquire, “How dare you speak to my wife like that?”

Derek dodged that question with, “If she were my wife I wouldn’t leave her sitting here alone.”

Well, that’s when the cookie crumbled, right there. Someone was smote. He gave as good as he got.

The implication here is that after Derek’s response, things took a turn for the worse and there was no going back.