All in One Basket: 8 Eggcentric Expressions


Eggs have earned a special place in English, with idioms, special meanings, and even a few good insults. If you're ready for a potentially awkward and definitely cheesy challenge (mm, cheesy eggs), see if you can use all 8 expressions this week! Just try not to get egg on your face.

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This term entered English meaning "a bald person." But it gained notoriety in the presidential campaign of 1952 when it was used in reference to democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson—and his followers—with a pejorative sense of "an intellectual." Stevenson later offered a cheeky Latinism in response to criticisms that intellectualism cost him the campaign: Via ovum cranium difficilis est, roughly translated as "the way of the egghead is hard."

Lay An Egg

This expression means to fare horribly, especially in the sense of being unsuccessful in front of an audience. Its origins are obscure, but its association with failure had been firmly established in the lexicon by the early to mid-1900s as evidenced by Variety magazine's famous headline from October 30, 1929, the day after the stock market crash: "Wall St. Lays an Egg."

Teach Your Grandmother...

...To Suck Eggs.

This curious expression emerged in the 1700s, and meant that someone was presuming to teach someone something they already knew. It’s fun to speculate that the saying provides insight into a time where all grandmothers were experts at dismantling eggs, but the expression was more likely meant to be a comical way to point out that elders know more than their juniors imagine.

Be careful not to confuse these grandmas with egg-suckers; in the singular, this term means "a flatterer; a sycophant." This is also different than telling someone to "go suck an egg." That's...well, that's just a rude way of telling someone to get lost.

Egg On Your Face

This expression conveys humiliation or embarrassment resulting from saying or doing something foolish (or unwise). It came into usage in the mid-1900s, and its origins are obscure. One theory is that it evolved out of teenage slang, and that it referenced a messy manner of eating that might leave food around a person's mouth.

Walk On Eggs

To walk on eggs may sound like an ill-conceived circus act, but the saying means to walk or act very cautiously, especially in order to not to offend or upset anyone. The expression first appeared in the 1740s as "trod upon eggs." By the mid-1800s, people were walking on eggshells in addition to eggs, but egg-trampling was (both more gooey and) more common. Around 1990 this changed, and the expressions "walking on eggshells" and "walk on eggshells" both skyrocketed in use, while "walking on eggs" and "walk on eggs" waned in popularity.

Putting All Your Eggs...

...In One Basket.

Putting all of your eggs in the refrigerator or the frying pan is one thing; putting all of them in one basket is something completely different. This idiomatic expression means "to venture all of something that one possesses in a single enterprise." It's often used in negative constructions, like "don't put all your eggs in one basket," to caution against the risk of losing everything. English speakers have been using this phrase, if not heeding its wisdom, since the mid-1600s. Of course, at Easter, kids have a more carefree approach to egg gathering.

Nest Egg

The phrase nest egg has been around since the late 1500s. When it entered English, it meant "an egg placed in a nest to induce a hen to continue laying eggs," although it was often used in figurative contexts to refer to an object used as a decoy or an inducement. The meaning has shifted though, and nowadays, it's widely used to mean "money saved and held in reserve for emergencies, retirement, etc."

Egg Someone On

Depending on how much you love brunch, a delicious omelet might move you to intense expressions of excitement, but the verb sense of egg meaning "to incite or urge; encourage" has no relation to the eggs we eat. It comes from the Old Norse term eggja with a similar verbal meaning.

However, if you drop the on in this expression, and say "to egg someone" instead, the henhouse connection is reestablished. In this construction, the verb egg means "to pelt with eggs."

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