"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Curate's Egg

Sometimes things are likened to the Curate's egg as an indication that they are good in parts. But this is actually a misuse of the phrase.

The idea first arose in a cartoon entitled True Humility in Punch magazine in 1895 in which a curate is seated at the Bishop's dining table. The Right Reverend host, looking at what the curate is eating, says "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones!" The Curate responds "Oh No, My Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!"

The humour is generated by the fact that if part of an egg is bad the whole thing is bad. Consequently to liken something that is 'good in parts' to the curate's egg is a wrong usage. If it is like the curate's egg it is no good at all.

1 comment:

  1. Is not the likening to the curate's egg a likening to what he said rather than to the egg?