In this column, the egg comes first.
We have so many expressions involving eggs that you'd think we were fowl.
A couple of egg idioms are about embarrassment. Having "egg on your face" is bad. It means you look foolish or are embarrassed. This strange phrase's origin isn't certain. I have been embarrassed thousands of times, but I've had egg on my face none of those times.
One theory is that, during plays, those in the theater audience who were displeased with an actor would throw raw eggs at him.
Tough, tough crowd.
Another theory is that people who ate soft-boiled eggs would be embarrassed when some yolk was left on their lips or facial hair. Haven't we had napkins for centuries? I have seen milk mustaches, tomato sauce splatters and, on babies, smeared sweet potatoes. I have never seen a person with egg on his face. Maybe I need to go out for breakfast more.
For chickens and other birds, laying an egg is good. Not so for humans. When a person lays an egg, she tried something that didn't work out well. It humiliated her.
The expression may have come from an old British sports term, "to achieve a duck's egg," meaning to score a big zero.
Today we hear that people score goose eggs, or zeroes.
For a time, people believed that the "love" in tennis, which means no score, came from a mispronunciation of "l'oeuf," the French word for egg. But many sources now say that's nonsense.
Some eggs can be good. In fact, "a good egg" is someone you can depend on.
A "rotten egg" is, not surprisingly, bad. It means you've done something wrong, and people dislike you for it.
Apparently being too slow makes you a rotten egg. When I was a kid, we'd say, "Last one in is a rotten egg." I'm not sure whether kids still say this.
An "egghead" is an intellectual. The word has a bit of a sting to it. The suggestion is that the person is smart but doesn't know much about the real world. Many subtleties are in that word.
When you "egg on" someone, you try to get him to do something. Sometimes you egg him on to be a supportive friend. Sometimes you're just pestering him, like a hovering fly. The difference between the two is a fine line.
Eggs have come to represent financial security. Originally a nest egg was a fake or real egg that was placed in a nest to encourage a chicken to lay an egg. You set aside a nest egg, saving money to use in the future.
But most people recommend not putting all your eggs in one basket. I think the message there is to diversify.
Walking on eggshells without breaking them can't be easy. This is why we say we're walking on eggshells when we're afraid of saying something wrong to someone with a quick temper.
Most people know Humpty Dumpty as an enormous egg in form-fitting clothing. The Humpty Dumpty rhyme about him falling off the wall goes back to the 1700s, and its words have changed a little over the centuries. Not until 1871, when Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass was published, was Mr. Dumpty depicted as an egg with a human face and limbs.
I found two egg expressions that I had never heard before.
The first is "egg in your beer." My reaction to this is "ick." When a person wants an egg in his beer, it means he wants special treatment.
The second is "curate's egg." Originally, this meant something was bad but you said it was good. It came from a George du Maurier cartoon in 1895, in which a curate, or clergyman, is too kind to say the egg is bad. It's mainly a British phrase and has changed meaning a little. Now it means something that has good and bad parts.
Suppose your sister-in-law makes dried-up meatloaf for dinner. She asks how you like it. You say, "The cheese in the center is nicely melted."
Be careful when you use these egg phrases; remember that chickens come home to roost.
These three sound alike, but they mean different things: "their," "there" and "they're."
"They're" should be used only when you intend to say "they are."
Read your sentence aloud and use "they are" in place of "they're."
If it sounds funny, you have used the wrong spelling.
That leaves the other two to figure out.
"There" indicates a place.
"Their" indicates possession.
Here's one way to remember the difference: "Possession" has an "i" in it and so does "their."
Here's the confusing triad in one sentence:
They're hoping their store will do well there.
Sources: brownielocks.com, Phrase Finder, Today I Found Out, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage Dictionary
ActiveStyle on 06/25/2018
Print Headline: English loves a good egg