"Gateau" as "Cookie"

During my education, the French word “gateau” referred to one of two things:

[li]Cake.[/li][li]A certain kind of derivative on functionals equivalient to the directional derivative for functions on finite-dimensional vector spaces.[/li][/ol]

But I am being told now, by someone who spent some time in France in the 90s, that in certain places, the word is actually taken to mean “cookie”. Where does that occur? Is this a France vs. Quebec thing? Or a regional thing? I’d hate to be in some French-speaking area with a sweet tooth and end up with the wrong thing.

My Harper-Collins defines it first as “cake” and second as “biscuit”. I’m assuming they mean biscuit in the British sense of ‘cookie’. The LaRousse says the same, but goes further to say biscuit (Br), cookie (Am).

In France, a cake is gâteau and a biscuit is petit gâteau.

In Cameroon, gâteau will usually get you a loaf of white bread from Nigeria. It’s used pretty generically for “any bread-like product that isn’t specifically a beignet or a baguette.”

And a cookie is a biscuit.

Two comments:
[li]It might be like the British usage of pudding, which can refer either to a specific kind of dessert, or dessert more generally.[/li][li]You’re thinking of the Gâteaux derivative, which is spelled slightly differently.[/li][/ol]

I understand “meat” used to be the same way – to mean any food, not just animal flesh. Brings new meaning to the “Another Brick in the Wall” lyric.

In my context of Canadian French as learned in an anglophone part of the country and barely used, cookie is “biscuit” and gateau is always “cake”.

Only in that one is the plural of the other, and doesn’t have its circumflex lazily omitted. We spend five minutes discussing this in Functional Analysis before moving on to the more useful Frechet Dervative. It only stuck with me because of the “cake” connection. :slight_smile:

The master speaks on a related subject.

(“The theme is quest”…“powerful hallucinogens”…one of my favorites!)

To me, “gâteau” is a cake while “biscuit” is a cookie, but I understand that the French sometimes use “gâteau” for certain kinds of cookies. Especially, I suppose, softer ones.

As far as I can tell, the most common word to describe cupcakes in French is simply “cupcake”. Though I guess “petit gâteau” would work as well.

The word *cookie *comes from Dutch koekje. Which is the word for cake plus the diminutive suffix. Cookie literally means little cake and petit gâteau is an exact translation.

For modern people the word cake is associated with soft, fluffy, towering layer cakes lavished in frosting. But the original cakes baked by ancient peoples were small, flat, dense, not layered, not frosted. In fact, similar to today’s cookies.

There’s also the word “galette” which usually means something between a flat cake or pastry and a giant cookie.

To further confuse the issue, in the last few years the word “cake” has caught on in France French (and occasionally in Quebec French) to refer to a baked loaf, often savory. (The categories on that page are “Salty (or savory) cake”, “Sweet cake”, “Ham cake”, “Olive cake”, “Tuna cake”, and “Chocolate cake”.)

In Brittany, a galette is either a savoury version of a crêpe, made with buckwheat flour, or a round flat butter-biscuit.

To add further to the confusion . . .

What is the French word they would use to refer to the secret-little-file-on-your-computer kind of cookie?

(ETA: Hey, when I first saw the title line of the OP, I immediately assumed that what it was asking about :dubious: )

The word is “cookie”. As in “effacer les cookies.”

This surprises me, as I remember French being notorious for having to create their own terms for computer concepts, rather than just import them as other the other languages I was studying did.

How is cookie pronounced? as if it were spelled coukie? And is the S silent in cookies?

Oh, don’t get me started on this. The notion that French is not welcoming of foreign loanwords is bs. French speakers are just as shameless pilferers as English speakers.

It’s true that there are organisms in France and Canada that suggest alternative translations, but take a look at this page on computer terminology from the French Wikipedia:
English borrowings dominate outrageously.

There is also the word témoin for cookie but it’s not used much outside of government publications.

As you guessed, the final “s” is always silent. French speakers pronounce it the way they would pronounce couquie, in other words more or less the way “cookie” is pronounced in English.

It differs between France and Canada, doesn’t it? E.g., France uses “parking” and “stop” whereas Canada uses “stationnement” and “arret”.

(I’m probably just out to lunch on this.)

No, you’re right. Quebec French uses lots of English borrowings, but they don’t have the same prestige as they have in France. When creating new terms, Quebec language authorities prefer to create French terms rather than borrow English ones. Probably the one that has caught on the best in recent years is courriel for e-mail. Unlike various other such terms it’s broadly understood and commonly used in speech, and the France-French version un mail isn’t used. In fact, language authorities in France sometimes look to Quebec for francized versions of terms, and courriel has gotten a recommend there.