A few days ago I said that a presentation “takes the cake“, meaning it was great. Now I just saw that Macmillan defines “take the cake” like this:
take the cake
to be the worst, most shocking, or most annoying example of something
I’ve heard some ridiculous excuses before, but that takes the cake.
Isn’t it interesting and strange how a phrase can be used ironically to mean the opposite? In German I would say “das schärfste sein”, “den Vogel abschießen”. Depending on the context, your tone of voice and your relationship to the people you are talking to the meaning will change. Irony is one of the defining types of communication … in my life, at least. In fact, I didn’t even realize I was being ironic. It’s interesting to see that the Urban Dictionary only lists the positive meaning.
About the Urban Dictionary: Founded in 1999 by college student Aaron Peckham as a parody of the dictionary, urbandictionary.com features definitions written by people from all over the world. Since then, Urban Dictionary has been cited in court, in graduation speeches, and by countless news media outlets, including CNN and Time magazine. Aaron listens for the newest words and phrases in San Francisco, California.
So if the Urban Dictionary meaning is the ironic one and it is so widespread, when does it stop being ironic? Hey, and why doesn’t Macmillan allow for both meanings? Could it be an American English/British English thing, too? Must ask Vicki Hollett about it, she’s Learning to speak ‘merican.