Egg on the Face: Egg on your face Origin

Why do we say: “You’ve got egg on your face” when someone’s done something leaving them looking embarrassed or foolish? What is the “egg on your face” origin?

Most sources track the egg on the face phrase back to around the 1940s, making it a relatively new idiom. One of the earliest textual references found was in The Bee (Danville, Virginia), 27 Aug. 1941. But why did it arise?

There are 2 main theories regarding why we say someone’s got egg on their face:

Theory 1: Being Pelted with Eggs
In the low-end of theatre, when a performer was strongly disliked, the rowdy audience would announce their discontent by pelting the performer with things. Anyone who’s seen the Muppets and Muppet Babies may be familiar with the joke-telling bear, Fozzie, who is often pelted with tomatoes when he tells a bad joke. In the theatre, the audience would sometimes throw raw eggs too, so that for a performer, having “egg on the face” was not only embarrassing in itself, but was also embarrassing because it was a sign of their failure in entertaining the audience.

Theory 2: Having accidental food remnants on the face
The second theory is that since soft-boiled egg was a common breakfast dish, it was not unusual to sometimes be caught with accidental runny egg on your face. Having egg encrusting the face is somewhat easier for bearded and moustached men who may not feel its presence, and were therefore more prone to having a decoration of egg embellishing their face in this way for much of the day; an understandable source of embarrassment.

Other theories:
There are other less popular theories suggesting that having egg on the face is almost akin to the embarrassment of being caught red-handed doing something you’re not supposed to be doing. This theory is based on the idea that the farmer’s dogs would sometimes snack on chicken eggs (also known as “egg-sucking”), and would be caught with egg on their faces, marking them as the mischievous culprits.

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4 Responses to Egg on the Face: Egg on your face Origin

  1. James says:

    Interesting stuff!

    Imagine bringing a bowl of fruit into a theatre to chuck at the performer now, people would think you’re a nutter!

    I especially like your polite description of bearded men “…having a decoration of egg embellishing their face…”

    Also that thing about the dogs, that’s got nothing to do with the saying “I’ll teach your grandmother to suck eggs” does it? Apologies if that’s already been explained elsewhere!

    • Lior says:

      Hi James! Thanks for you comment : )

      haha yeah, the world has thankfully become slightly more civilized in the fruit-throwing department at least!

      Good question about the grandmother sucking eggs expression. It seems that the egg-sucking in the grandmother expression is more to do with egg-sucking being a useless activity that needs no teaching rather than one that gets egg on your face (so the origin is probably different). Apparently other versions of your expression have included teaching grandmothers other useless activities like to milk ducks and steal sheep. :D

  2. livy says:

    The idiom For egg on yopur face comes from the early years. When children egg houses or happen to be fighting with eggs theyd say “hey, You got an egg on your face”. But thats just literaly. In figurative meaning it just means that you took a hard turn or are going through a rough time.
    ~Livy 101~

  3. Colin Hill says:

    Egg on one’s face probably came from the inventor of the microwave oven Percy Spencer who had disbelieving colleagues watching an attempt to boil an egg using microwave power. They were vocal in their disbelief and one peered over the safety screen as he didn’t believe anything was happening. The egg exploded, covering his face with egg. This is according to Percy Spencer’s son. The date is in the 40s which is the time it started to appear in the language.

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