I have been, all too predictably, seasonally, thinking about the egg, its role in the imminent Easter festivities which will be the subject of the next post, but also reexamining the little word itself, so commonplace, so rarely considered.
I’ll look at its etymology in the next post, too, but not surprisingly the egg has featured in English slang, at least since the first recorded attestations in the 16th century, but its various slang senses, until very recently, have been disappointingly obvious and unengaging.
The main senses and sub-senses of slang egg can be listed as follows, roughly in order of chronological record, and also in rough order of frequency of use (examples of these usages are listed by my fellow slang specialist and sometime collaborator, Jonathon Green, in his monumental Green’s Dictionary of Slang)
- From its physical resemblance, (ovoid, containing viscous fluid, a seed of life): Testicle
- From its resemblance, (ovoid, hard surface, hollow, precious content): Head
- From resemblance, (hollow container): Bomb
- From resemblance, (hollow container or roughly oval pellet): Capsule, Tablet (of an illicit substance)
- By extension, from the notion of a unit, organism (heard in the obsolescent expressions in ‘posh’ British English ‘a good egg/bad egg’): Person
- Specified, perhaps with reference to simple form (in New Zealand slang this is a common insult, though some claim it is inspired by d. below): Fool
- Further specified, perhaps with added reference to fragility: Dupe
- Clipped form of the colloquial expression denoting an individual with overdeveloped brain-function/intellectual prowess: Egghead
So far, so unexciting. More recently, though, the same word has been adopted for new purposes, encoding fresh and interesting ideas. These, in no particular order, are:
- A transgender person who hasn’t yet embraced or revealed their identity. The usage plays on the notion of ‘a chick or a cock on the inside’. In August 2017 ‘happycookie’ posted the following on the Urban Dictionary website:
‘…If they’re unsure whether they want to transition they’re a scrambled egg. If they supposedly really dislike transgender people but still constantly talk about them they’re a hard-boiled egg’
The term can also apply to someone who has newly acknowledged their identity, or recently transgendered, by analogy with ‘newly hatched’.
- A white person who wishes to be or pretends to be ‘Asian’ (in the American sense of Japanese, Chinese, etc., formerly denoted by ‘oriental’). Urban Dictionary has a first and only mention from 2003, explaining that such a person is ‘white on the outside, yellow on the inside’. But there’s more here:
- An anonymous online troll, typically using the Twitter social network. In April 2017 Twitter stopped using the egg-shaped blank as its default avatar and substituted a gender-neutral silhouette, saying that it wished to ‘prompt more self-expression’ but more probably as the word egg had come to signify a malicious, anonymous user, typically male, who harassed other accounts, typically not anonymous and female. Twitter egg had also been used since 2010 as an insult directed at users who retained the egg default because they were too inept to create their own profile picture.
- In texting abbreviation and acronyms capitalised EGG has been used for ‘Enlightened Grammar Geek’, ‘Exceedingly Great Grooves’, and by gamers for ‘Elemental Gimmick Gear’
- An Easter egg in the jargon of computing, videogaming and video production is an intentional inside joke, hidden message or image, or a secret feature, planted inside a computer program, video game, menu screen or electronic device, for instance, or only accessible by secret commands. The usage derives from having to search for hidden prizes on a traditional Easter egg hunt.
- To egg (someone) as a verb is not really slang, but an informal term, originating in British usage, for flinging eggs at a victim, typically as a way of expressing contempt for a public figure. (I’ll deal with the phrase ‘to egg (someone) on’ in the next post.)
- The adjective eggy, sometimes eggsy, meaning nervous, agitated or moody, or peculiar, irritating or hostile, heard in US and British slang since the 1980s, is of uncertain origin. It may not be related to eggs, but be an adaptation of the colloquial ‘edgy’ or (putting someone) ‘on edge’.
- As adjective eggy can mean also excellent, of which it may be a playful distortion, in UK playground slang, since the 1990s.
- In multiethnic British street slang eggs-up can mean intrusive, too curious or nosy. It probably comes from Jamaican ‘patois’ where it can also describe showing off or taking advantage of another person. The connection with actual eggs, if there is one, is unclear.
- While on the same subject, Jamaican English often pronounces the word as ‘hegg’, while in Irish slang a yoke is an unnamed object. There must be other senses of the e-word in popular conversation and online use, as yet unrecorded. If you know of any, please do send them to me (and you will be thanked and credited in any future writings).