The Cream Always Rises To The What??

Often for Wonder Why Wednesday posts, I will look into the origin of sayings (such as “toast of the town”). I’m fascinated by language and how these funny terms came about. I find it interesting which terms stand the test of time and which ride off into the sunset.

Today I would like to discuss another common phrase. But rather than just wondering where this phrase came from, I want to know about the correct usage of the phrase.

I’ll explain more in today’s Wonder Why Wednesday…

When we talk about someone who is the top of the class, we may call them the “cream of the crop.” For instance, the San Antonio Spurs have been called the cream of the crop in the NBA for many years, thanks to their success over the last decade.

I am no farmer, but I can gather that the cream is the finest part of a crop, which is why the saying is used to signify the best of the best.

Makes sense. But what happens when we are talking about that same cream in the context of how they became the best? Take the Spurs example. They nearly lost in the first round of the playoffs, but now they are once again playing for a championship. We have another saying for this and it goes something like…

“The cream always rises to the ____.”

Where exactly does the cream rise?

I listened to one interview where the guest said, “the cream always rises to the crop.” And in just the same day, I heard another conversation in which someone said, “the cream always rises to the top.”

Depending on who I listen to, the cream seems to be rising to many different things. So which is correct? Does the cream rise to the top or the crop? Maybe the top of the crop??

According to, the correct phrase is, “the cream always rises to the top.” UE gives the example of cream that is poured into coffee or tea, eventually rises to the top of the cup. A quick Google search found no examples of “cream rising to the crop” being the correct usage.

I guess the phrase is commonly used incorrectly because top and crop sound so similar. Much like how you will hear people say, “with all intensive purposes” when they should be saying “intents and purposes.”

So there you have it. These are two separate sayings. “Cream of the crop” and “cream always rises to the top” (not crop).

A little confusing, I know. Want to know more confusing sayings, here’s a link to 15 other saying that we commonly get wrong.

And if you don’t believe me about crop vs top, check out the below video and try telling the Macho Man that he is saying it wrong.