Microspeak: Cookie licking

Cookie licking is the act of claiming something as something only you can do, but without actually doing it. (Note: This is considered a bad thing.)

I have not seen this particular phrase in action, but I'm under the impression it comes from the Microsoft Research part of campus.

The metaphor employed here is a plate of cookies. You've pigged out on cookies and you're full, but you take a cookie, lick it, and then put it back on the plate. Since nobody wants to eat a cookie that somebody else has licked, this effectively allows you to claim the cookie without actually having to eat it. (You never even had to put it on your plate.)

Suppose there is a list of items to be done, say, tasks or projects or topics for investigation. Somebody signals interest in a particular project, thereby making it unavailable for others to work on. If the person never actually starts working on the project, then that person is accused of engaging in cookie licking.

Cookie licking takes place at higher levels, too. For example, one team might come up with an idea for a feature, but they will be told by another team, "That's something we've been thinking about for a while," as a way for the second team to take control of the feature away from the first team. In extreme cases, that other team may not actually have been thinking about the feature at all, but by merely saying that they have, they have asserted their claim to it.

Explaining it again: In the comments, it looks like someone else doesn't quite understand what cookie licking is, since he/she brings up a number of examples which aren't cookie licking. Since other people might be similarly mistaken, let me try again.

Cookie licking is a tactic to prevent somebody from doing something by saying that only you can do it. It's a way of taking things away from others.

"Announcing an OS without actually delivering quickly" is not cookie licking. Announcing the OS doesn't prevent other companies from developing their own. Announcing a product and delivering it late is embarrassing, but it's not cookie licking.

Similarly, announcing a successor product, which stifles interest in the current product is not cookie licking. The current product is already out there; nobody took it away. The marketing team may have made a serious error in judgement, but no cookie licking took place.

In both cases, the examples fail to capture the concept of preventing people from doing something by saying that only you can do it. It is a political tactic internal to an organization, not something done in public.

Comments (23)
  1. someone else says:

    Or announcing an OS without actually delivering quickly.

    Oh, wait.

  2. JGG says:

    @someone else: Must everything always turn to mindless Windows bashing? I see trolls are still failing on the ability to think or understand the topic at hand before posting their knee-jerk reaction. Then again this is the Internet at work.

  3. keith says:

    From the title I was expecting some kind of identity-thieving cookie-scraping malware, but nevertheless, Interesting!  Also, Gross!

  4. someone else says:

    At least MS is smart enough to not do it to themselves. Unlike that portable computer company (whose name escapes me right now), who announced the successor to their current product, thereby stifling sales and lacking money to actually develop the successor.

  5. Adam V says:

    (Side note: I recall a commercial a couple of years back where there was someone singing to the camera while four people sat on a couch eating pizza. There was only one slice left, and suddenly all four simultaneously lunged for it. However, one of them had the brilliant idea of sneezing on the pizza slice rather than grabbing for it.

    So keith, if you thought "cookie licking" was gross, at least it beats "pizza sneezing".)

    I’ve been fortunate enough to not ever have to deal with cookie-licking at any of my jobs – a couple of companies ago, two different departments both began work towards a single idea, but the company took the road of "put the groups together and make a single product" instead of wasting time arguing about who had the rights to the idea, or who had the better plan for realizing the idea.

  6. Dan says:

    Patent trolling.

    If a company can acquire a patent, they can effectively prevent others from implementing that idea, whether or not the patent holders plan to implement the idea themselves. I have no personal experience with this, but the impression that I get is that this is particularly common with software patents.

  7. Gabe says:

    There was a car commercial a while back that had people allocating themselves cars by licking the door handles. Perhaps this commercial was inspired by cookie licking.

  8. Jared says:


    Child at a party needs to go off to the bathroom but is afraid the other guests will eat all the cookies while he is gone.  So, he licks the cookies and leaves them on the plate while he’s gone.

    The other children turn the cookies upside down and lick them, returning them to the plate to await the return of the bathroom boy.

  9. Following on from Jared’s story, I’m reminded of the chap in the pub who needs to go to the toilet but worries that somebody will nick his pint; so he leaves a note on top of his glass reading "I have spat in this pint."

    When he returns his pint is intact, but on the note somebody has added "So have I."

  10. Ben Hutchings says:

    This is normally referred to as dog-in-the-manger, referring to the fable attributed to Aesop.

  11. porter says:

    Bloke in pub wants to go to the toilet but has to leave his pint on the bar, so writes a note on a bit of paper "I have spat in this" and leaves it on the top of the glass. When he returned somebody had written "So have I" on it.

  12. J says:

    It occurs to me that how one interprets the phrase "cookie-licking" depends on whether or not that person would actually eat a cookie after someone has licked it.

    Which brings me to my 2nd point:  That’s nasty, Michael G.

  13. Is this post in response to this?


    [Nope, totally coincidental. -Raymond]
  14. Duke of New York says:

    Engineering companies have a particular lingo for product development that isn’t obvious to outsiders, leaving them easy prey for propaganda by jealous competitors and know-it-alls.

    ANNOUNCES: the company has money to invest in a product, and wants customer suggestions about what it should be. Actual development typically hasn’t started. Delivery could be months away, and anyone who knows the lingo understands that.

    INTRODUCES: the product has been prototyped and is ready for refinement and manufacturing

    SHIPS: The product is ready for mass-production.

    Again, this is engineering companies in general. Not just Microsoft. Not just software companies. Not just apparent monopolies.

  15. Daniel says:

    In fact, you can do it in public.

    Just claim "patent pending" without applying for the patent.

  16. Falcon says:

    Some years ago, there was an Australian TV ad involving two workers with one chocolate bar. One of them took the bar, licked one (long) side of it and gave the other a smug look. The other one took the bar and licked the other side. Eventually, they got a hacksaw and cut it through the centre, but then forgot which piece "belonged" to whom!

  17. Michael G says:

    > In both cases, the examples fail to capture the concept of preventing people from doing something by saying that only you can do it. It is a political tactic internal to an organization, not something done in public.

    I disagree.  Yes, “Google plans to enter the X market with product Y” doesn’t *prevent* someone else from entering the same market, but it is strongly discouraging.  Just in the same way that licking a cookie doesn’t really *prevent* someone else from eating it, it’s just strongly discouraging.

    [True, the effect is similar, but “cookie-licking” as used inside Microsoft refers specifically to “I am doing it so you can’t” – as opposed to “I am doing it so you probably don’t want to.” -Raymond]
  18. klmno says:

    Reserving (but not actually using) domain names in order to sell them later at a profit is a form of public cookie-licking.

    [Close. Reserving the domain name and never using it, and never selling it either — that would be cookie-licking. Cookie-licking isn’t about profit. It’s about control and denial of service. -Raymond]
  19. Anton Tykhyy says:

    There is a Ukrainian saying which translates roughly as "Even if I can’t eat it, I’ll nibble it" (як не з’їм, то хоч понадкусюю).

  20. Anon says:

    It reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me.

    His grandmother gave him and his sister a chocolate bar to share.

    He immediately grabbed the bar, licked it and offered it to his sister. Things didn’t turn out as he expected, though.

    Instead of refusing the chocolate, his sister took the bar, *licked the other side of the bar*, said "nah, I don’t want it – you can have it" and gave it back him.

    Not sure if there is a separate term for this… (double cookie licking?)

  21. Boris says:

    @Daniel, "Importing"? Who wrote these laws. It couldn’t be that archaic if it was amended recently.

  22. Hardware Junkie says:

    I saw this trick a lot while at MS. In my experience, it was all about preventing any sort of encroachment on an existing franchise ("defending the business")and more importantly, on the team delivering the current franchise. Windows, Office, SQL, and Exchange all practiced this trick. It frequently involved deep negotiations between CVPs. Interestingly, toward the end of my time at MS, even MSR was trying to stop things they felt were getting too close to one of their research areas.

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