Small Cakes

An interesting Danish word I learnt recently is småkage [ˈsmʌˌkʰæːjə], which means biscuit or cookie, or literally “small cake” [source].

Færdige småkager

The Dutch word koekje [ˈkuk.jə], meaning cookie, is a diminutive of koek (cake), so you could say the it means “small cake” as well. It was borrowed into English and became cookie. This was borrowed back into Dutch as cookie to refer to internet cookies [source].

The word kage [ˈkʰæː(j)ə] (cake) comes from the Old Danish kakæ, from Old Norse kaka (cake), from Proto-Germanic *kakǭ (cake), from the Proto-Indo-European *gag-/*gōg- (round, ball-shaped object; lump; clump). The Dutch word koek comes from the same Proto-Germanic root [source].

The English word cake comes from the same Old Norse root, and has been borrowed by a number of other languages [source], including Dutch, where it became kaak [kaːk] (ship biscuit) and cake [keːk] (pound cake).

In French the word cake [kɛk] refers to fruitcake (containing rum) or quick bread (a smallish loaf-shaped baked good). In Portuguese it became queque [ˈkɛ.kɨ], meaning a muffin or cupcake – the same word in Spanish, pronounced [ˈkeke], refers to a cake, cupcake or biscuit.

The plural form cakes was borrowed into Danish and became kiks [ˈkʰiɡs] – a cracker. In German it became Keks (biscuit / cookie), which was borrowed into Russian and became кекс [kʲeks], which means cake, fruitcake, cupcake, dude or guy. This sounds a bit like the word kecks, which in northern England and Scotland is a slang word for trousers and/or underpants, from kicks (breeches).

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Incidentally, the photo above shows what I would call cookies. The one below shows what I call biscuits:


Not everyone would agree with this, perhaps, and apparently some might call these biscuits:


They look more like scones to me.

What are biscuits / cookies to you?

3 thoughts on “Small Cakes

  1. I assure you those things in the bottom picture won’t taste like scones.

    Japanese has borrowed the words “cake” (ケーキ kēki) and “biscuit” (ビスケット bisuketto) with the British meanings attached. “Gâteau” (ガトー gatō) covers what Americans mean by “cake”.

  2. Perhaps it goes without saying that all these words are cognate with cook and kitchen (the connection between these two words is more obvious in other Germanic languages: German kochen, Küche; Dutch koken, keuken).

    Yiddish has קיכעל (kikhel) for ‘biscuit’/’cookie’, also a diminutive.

    Biscuit, despite appearances, is another a cognate, coming, via Old French, from Latin bis-coctum (‘twice-baked’), from coquere (‘to cook’) – which is also the source of similar words in the Germanic languages.

    The Latvian word for ‘biscuit’ is cepums, from the verb cept (to bake) – which is not derived from Latin but shares a common IE etymology with coquere.

  3. A really nice dessert is Apfelkuchen, which is German for “apple cake”, but it’s not really cake, or apple pie either. It’s more like an apple “tart” in which there is a bottom crust and a layer of sliced apples that is much thinner than you’d find in a typical apple pie, and it usually has additional flavors added to the apples.

    Tastes good with vanilla ice cream and coffee 🙂

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