The pick of the litter is an idiom that dates to the early twentieth century.
An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, close but no cigar, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. 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.
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)