I was taught to bake, not cook. As a child, my mother and grandmother showed me how to measure flour, crack eggs, and transform simple ingredients into one magical, delicious, comforting whole. I made cookies, muffins, biscuits, and white cakes with pink frosting. If I relied on memory to tell the story, it would sound like I spent my entire childhood baking, reading, and riding bikes. That’s it. Cookies, books, and bikes.
By the time cookies took on a whole new and different meaning, I had yet to surf the web. The internet was just emerging when I was studying English and philosophy in college. Back then, I was delving into difficult texts because it was fun, and obsessively listening to music made by people who loved language as much as I did. If tech was a thing back then, I wasn’t aware. Blooming into a full-bore word nerd took great focus.
I don’t remember the first time I saw the word “cookie” used as a name for a small data file, but I do remember thinking it was a travesty. Why cookie? Why couldn’t the geeks in charge of such things name their little computer whatsit after something less transcendent? Less soulful. It was an affront to my love of cookies AND words! More than that, it signaled the decline of the English language. Cookie! How dare they!
There are several origin stories to explain how the cookie (not the buttery kind) got its name.
Some say it came from the fairy tale where Hansel and Gretel leave a trail of cookie crumbs behind them to find their way out of a dark forest. Another is the Cookie Monster Easter Egg theory that you can probably figure out on your own. Suffice to say the word “cookie” plays a major role in the story. The third explanation is known as The Magic Ticket cookie, so called after programmers named a token, or short piece of data, a magic cookie, which they passed between programs. You could only access the contents of the cookie file after the program passed the file back to the sender at a later time. The file was used like a ticket to identify a particular event or transaction. Finally, there’s the Chinese Fortune Cookie answer, which comes from UNIX systems’ Fortune Program. When starting up, the system would present a joke, or a quote, to the user who was logging in. The information it received was stored in what administrators called a cookie file.
I get it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
The English language continues its decline, thanks to shorthand naming conventions, texting, screens replacing books, rampant capitalism, etc. Being a word nerd in the 21st century isn’t easy, but I’ve found ways to get by. Working as a professional writer and editor for almost 20 years helps. Baking with my children is another soothing balm. Teaching them to read and follow recipes, and love the process as much as the result will, hopefully, help them in countless ways down the road. Speaking of which: I wonder what they’ll think about internet cookies when that day comes.
Are you a word nerd? Which cookie origin story do you buy? Do you have nostalgic feelings about cookies? I’d love to hear your thoughts.