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Is there any slight difference in meaning between the two phrases "A tin of biscuits" and "A biscuit tin"?

I'm not sure but I think there's a tiny difference in their meaning. Like, a tin of biscuits is about to emphasize that it's a tin with biscuits inside, while a biscuit tin emphasizes it's the bin, not the package.

Do you think it's so, or I'm just overthinking and the two phrases are the same, there's no, even a teeny-weeny difference in meaning?


P.S. Why do people say "a bus stop" instead of "a stop of buses"? has already had the answer and is somewhat relative to this question. So enjoy it if you like.

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    Note that in the USA, both are way wrong, and its a "package of cookies". – T.E.D. Oct 7 at 14:05
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    @T.E.D. Or is it a cookie package? – Aaron Oct 7 at 16:33
  • @T.E.D. - I would think "a bag of cookies" (or maybe "a box of cookies") would be more correct. At least around here. Of course, you might take the cookies out of whatever kind of package they were in and put them in the "cookie jar" – Matt Burland Oct 7 at 18:38
  • @MattBurland - Depends on packaging. If they are all just floating loose in a bag, sure. But usually they are in some kind of container that prevents them all from banging into each other and rendering themselves just a bag of crumbs during shipment. Girl scout cookies are sold by the "box". – T.E.D. Oct 7 at 18:46
  • @MattBurland and TED, yes, it's more like "a cookie jar" vs "a jar of cookies" – CGCampbell Oct 8 at 14:52
60

No, you are not overthinking. There is definitely a difference, and the difference is the one you have described. A "tin of biscuits" refers to the biscuits within, whereas a "biscuit tin" generally refers to the tin itself.

Of course, if the tin is full of biscuits, then the two terms converge in practice. For instance, the two phrases:

"Please fetch me the tin of biscuits from the pantry"

and

"Please fetch me the biscuit tin from the pantry"

will mean exactly the same if the person requesting the tin is hungry and knows there are still biscuits inside! :)

As an aside, back in earlier decades (e.g. in the 1960s), people would collect the tins themselves (especially if they were very pretty) and re-use them to store other items.

I still have several biscuit tins from family members who have passed away (e.g. a biscuit tin full of assorted nails and screws from my grandfather and another full of interesting buttons from my grandmother). Even if I don't need the items within, I keep them for nostalgic reasons.

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    My university-student niece as many biscuit tins full of sewing gear, art supplies, and I know not what other things. – simon at rcl Oct 6 at 13:23
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    A biscuit tin would translate to a tin for biscuits if a preposition were used. A tin of biscuits, as you say, is roughly a tin filled with biscuits. – Jason Bassford Oct 7 at 0:59
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    Biscuit tins are useful boxes which contain buttons. Always buttons. – TRiG Oct 7 at 10:14
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    Note that even if the tin is full of biscuits, it doesn't always converge. "I ate a tin of biscuits" and "I ate a biscuit tin" are still not the same :) – Flater Oct 7 at 11:10
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    There is a royal dansk danish tin that has been so commonly re-purposed as a sewing-kit-tin it has become a meme: homes.nine.com.au/decor/biscuit-tin-sewing-supplies-royal-dansk/… – Stacey Oct 8 at 9:50
30

Compare it to A packet of crisps and a crisp packet. A box of shoes and a shoe box. A box of cigars and a cigar box. A barrel of oil and an oil barrel. A chest of treasure and a treasure chest, a bottle of wine and a wine bottle.

The first form states a substance, some items, associated with the container. The second form emphasizes the type of container, with or without its contents.

14

I agree generally with the previous responses, but have one minor detail to add.

Semantically, the difference between "a tin of biscuits" and a "biscuit tin" can be significant. The first refers to an object, a tin, which contains biscuits, whether or not it was originally meant for that purpose. The second refers to a tin which was made to contain biscuits. Thus, a biscuit tin is still a biscuit tin, even after you have eaten all the biscuits!

Example 1: Look, Mom: Grandma sent me a tin of biscuits for Christmas, and they're my favorite kind. I do wish she hadn't sent them in this old tobacco tin -- yucky!

Example 2: Grandma, are you going to use that empty biscuit tin? I'd like to have it to store part of my bottle cap collection.

4

Here is a similar example of a noun-noun construction:

My mother in law has a biscuit barrel.

These are still common; hers is like this (they don't all look like little kegs):

enter image description here
source: Google Images (biscuit barrel)

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    Oh yes! We had one just like this! From a jumble sale! I also saw a mustard coloured china woven basketry effect one, once. Similar barrel shape, china lid, no handle. Fairly horrid. – Jelila Oct 6 at 14:43
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    In American English, this would be called a "cookie jar" indicating its function (although to my eye it looks like an ice bucket). Also, in American English, something this small might be called a barrel to indicate its shape, but the item itself would more normally called a bucket or a pail. – Steven the Easily Amused Oct 6 at 23:20
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    One of my most prized possessions is a biscuit barrel in the form of the Death Star. OK it's a biscuit globe. – RedSonja Oct 7 at 10:55
4

Several answers address the difference in emphasis (the emphasis on biscuits vs the emphasis on the container), I think there's an extra layer in there in that a biscuit tin would often be assumed to be more specialized or dedicated than the tin of "a tin containing biscuits"... some biscuit tins are decorated, some are collectible, some, okay most, are brand specific, and some are the tins which always contain the biscuits. A tin of biscuits might mean any tin, generic or otherwise labelled, or even a non-tin-box container if tin boxes are more common in the area or in local dialect, similar to how we might say box even for a round container of something.

I'm probably making a muddle of it, but I mean the term is a bit more specialized, a bit narrower in meaning, than "the container that holds the biscuits". I'd expect something sturdy, reusable, probably elaborate, usually round, in addition to being specifically labelled with the word biscuit or associated with a biscuit brand on hearing "biscuit tin" and that extra layer of connotation would not be there for, say, the box of a cookie box (maybe cardboard and disposable, maybe fancy wood or metal), or a tin of, say, peas (recyclable can), or even a can of biscuits if such a thing were to be found (I've seen cake-inna-can, so, shrug). That may have something to do with what is more available where I am, but it is an association that would be common in my area.

I would also be surprised to hear the phrase biscuit tin be applied to a tin box or other container that happened to contain biscuits but had another specialization or label (ie, the biscuits are in the pasta tin... not the popcorn tin, that has buttons!) unless their use for biscuits was well established and habitual, or to describe, say, a generic tin that contains buttons, as others have mentioned biscuit tins often are repurposed to do (you see the specialization that keeps the name "biscuit" attached to them).

So, yeah, I think the difference in emphasis is there, but term "biscuit tin" also ends up suggesting something a bit more specific than a biscuit "container" or "box".

3

As an addition to what @TechnoCat said:

I ate the tin of biscuits.

vs

I ate the biscuit tin.

In both cases the person has a bad diet, but in the first case they're eating the biscuits (yum!) and in the second case they're eating the metal tin (ouch!).

1

While 'TechnoCats' answer is correct.

Literally 'the/a biscuit tin' may mean just the tin.But it would depend on the context.

For example: A mother would say 'Son bring me the biscuit tin' while serving tea, or, the mother can say 'Son bring me the {empty} biscuit tin {to store my sewing} or {to store the biscuits from the NEW packet/box'.

In a factory, 'we have run out of biscuit tins' means empty ones. 'We need to pack the biscuit tins {is ambiguous} means full ones. 'We need to ship the biscuit cartons' means full ones...

As in any language, usage differs to literal. So, if you were to write a book then you will need to say 'tin of biscuits' or you may need to add context:

William's mom asked him to bring the biscuit tin for tea. The tin had a variety of biscuits in compartments made of old tin foil (slaved from new [biscuit] tins) so as not to get the flavours mixed up - his mom was quite particular about such things...

Trust this helps.

1

I'd say normally:

1 A tin of biscuits, Implies that there is a container, which contains biscuits.

2 A biscuit tin, implies that there is a container, that is associated with biscuits.

For clarity:

2 A shoe box, is a box that contains shoes.

2 A metal box, is a box made of metal.

1 A box of metal, is a box that contains metal. (Although, in irregular speech such as poetry you may see the made of interpretation )

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