The pick of the litter

The pick of the litter is an idiom that dates to the early twentieth century. We will examine the meaning of the idiom the pick of the litter, where it comes from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The pick of the litter is the best item out of a group of items, or the best person out of a group of people. The pick of the litter might be the most valuable thing or person, the most physically appealing, most entertaining, the healthiest, the largest, or the most impressive thing or person in the group. The expression the pick of the litter came into use in the early 1900s, and is derived from the expression a litter of puppies. A litter of puppies is the group of puppies born together from one mother. Often, one person may own the mother dog, and another person may own the male dog. A common agreement made when breeding dogs is to allow the male dog to breed with the female at no cost, with the understanding that the owner of the male dog will be allowed to choose one puppy as his own, or have his pick of the litter.

Examples


Once Durant, the pick of the litter, breaks the logjam, the resultant gullywasher downstream is likely to reshape the NBA topography. (The Mercury News)

In that grand tradition, these five new books are the pick of the litter. (The New York Times)

In 2012, King compared immigrants to dogs, saying that America should take only “the pick of the litter,” and in 2013 he said that immigrants have “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling marijuana across the desert.  (The New Yorker)

General Manager John Lynch didn’t target any safeties during free agency, perhaps knowing the 49ers would have their pick of the litter early in the second round. (The Buffalo News)

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