The idiom take the cake has its roots in Ancient Greece, though it did not come into common use until the 1800s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will examine the definition of the phrase take the cake, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
To take the cake means to receive the top honors in a situation, though the phrase is most often used sarcastically to mean being the best at something negative or representing the apex of something negative. The term take the cake is derived from the cakewalk. A cakewalk was a competitive dance performed by black slaves which mocked the over-refined manners that plantation owners employed at their formal balls. The winner or winning couple of these competitions was awarded a cake. Plantation owners often knew about these get-togethers, and ignored them as harmless. Whether or not the plantation owners understood that they were being mocked is unclear. The practice of presenting a cake as a prize goes back to Ancient Greece, though the idiom take the cake doesn’t appear until the 1800s in the United States. Related phrases are takes the cake, took the cake, taking the cake.
It’s no hidden issue that this summer has arguably been one of the hottest summers we’ve had, even though it may not be the hottest (2015 and 2016 take the cake.) (The Daily Californian)
We regularly see muddled thinking from right-wingers in this Letters to the Editor section, but a letter complaining about criticism of Trump family travel costs and suggesting media should shift attention to the Clintons rather than Trump may take the cake. (The Santa Maria Times)
But Young says it’s the breaded and deep-fried cheese curds that really take the cake: “We sell more of those than we do French fries!” (The Dayton City Paper)