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marmalade dropperBritish Englishalso muffin chokerAmerican English

noun [countable]

a piece of information, especially a newspaper article or headline, that is very shocking or exciting

'An editor I once worked for had a pet term for a story that would shock and amaze breakfast readers. "I want at least one marmalade dropper from you this week," he'd bellow. It was an apt image, reader's marmalade plopping from their toast into their laps as they sat transfixed by some nugget of sheer unbelievability you'd managed to work into a story.'

Car and Driving 2000

The expression marmalade dropper first appeared in the mid-1990s, and often has fairly positive overtones when applied to creative writing. Describing a novel as 'a real marmalade dropper' implies a degree of enjoyment and praise for a skilful piece of writing which has had an impact on the reader.

describing a novel as 'a real marmalade dropper' implies a degree of enjoyment and praise for a skilful piece of writing

Use of the expression is not confined to describing writing however. We can find evidence for it being used in descriptions of photographic material in journalism, particularly in reference to photographs depicting scenes of violence, often where there is some debate as to their appropriateness, for example:

'There is a very subtle line between where a picture had impact and where it becomes what we call a marmalade dropper.'

Evelyn Holtzhausen, editor, Cape Times

Marmalade dropper can also be used in reference to the impact of a spoken statement, as illustrated by this article describing the words of Gordon Brown, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer:

'When Gordon Brown had breakfast at The Guardian recently, the real marmalade-dropper was his description of [university] top-up fees as "this ridiculous idea".

as reported in The Telegraph 5th December 2002

Background – marmalade dropper and muffin-choker

The idea for this phrase is based on the reaction someone might have when reading a shocking article in a morning newspaper at the breakfast table. Of course, the prospect of marmalade dropping from a knife or slice of toast and depositing itself in the lap of the astonished reader has to be a distinctly British concept, the term marmalade not being used across the Atlantic. Based on the breakfast habits of Americans, the US equivalents are the terms cornflake choker or more commonly muffin-choker, for example:

'In the news biz, it's called a "muffin choker". A story so big in its import and so gruesome in its detail that you want to throw up your breakfast.'

Philadelphia Citypaper.net September 1997

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 19th September 2003.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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