Ralph asked about the
saying, “to egg someone on.” He speculated that it might have come from early
theater, where bad performances were greeted with thrown objects, including
eggs, tomoatoes, and anything else at hand.
Although this practice
appears with some frequency in comedic movies and TV shows, I’m not sure that
it was ever widespread. And wouldn’t they be trying to egg the bad actor off the stage? At any rate, it has nothing to do
with this idiom, which means to urge someone on.
It goes back to an Old
English word, ecg, a sharp
point on a weapon, such as a sword. When captives were being moved, especially
in large numbers, they would be prodded by their captor soldiers in order to
move them along. A sword or a lance would act as a convincing incentive. To ecg
on became to egg on, a change based on sound after the original Old English
word had morphed into edge.
Curiosity led me to collect some other Old English words
based on the same root.
- ecgan: to sharpen, give an edge; harrow
- ecgbana: slayer with the sword,
- Ecgbryht: ecg, edge, sword + bryht, bright, excellent
- ecgclif: steep shore, a sea cliff or shore
- ecgheard: hard of edge
- ecghete: sword-hatred
- ecghwæs: keen-edged
- ecglást: sword’s edge
- ecglinga: on the edge, edgeling
- ecgplega: a play of swords, sword-fight
- ecgþracu: hot contest, sword strength, war
or savage courage
- ecgung: harrowing
- ecgwæl: sword-slaughter, sword’s wail
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