The Edmondson Blog

The Curate's Egg

The expression a curate's egg originally meant something that is partly good and partly bad, but as a result is entirely spoiled.

The phrase derives from a cartoon in Punch in November 1895, picturing a timid-looking curate taking breakfast with his bishop.

The bishop says, "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones."

The curate replies, "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"

The original sense of the expression referred to an objective understanding of the depicted scenario: since an egg that is even partly bad is effectively inedible, the supposedly excellent parts do not redeem it.

Interestingly, modern usage has tended to change this to mean something having a mix of good and bad qualities. This more modern sense of the expression reflects the point of view the curate is trying to argue: that the excellent parts compensate enough for the bad parts to render complaints – or at least declaring something a total loss – inappropriate.

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