lay an egg


  1. the roundish reproductive body produced by the female of certain animals, as birds and most reptiles, consisting of an ovum and its envelope of albumen, jelly, membranes, egg case, or shell, according to species.
  2. such a body produced by a domestic bird, especially the hen.
  3. the contents of an egg or eggs: raw egg; fried eggs.
  4. anything resembling a hen’s egg.
  5. Also called egg cell. the female gamete; ovum.
  6. Informal. person: He’s a good egg.
  7. Slang. an aerial bomb.

verb (used with object)

  1. to prepare (food) by dipping in beaten egg.


  1. egg on one’s face, Informal. humiliation or embarrassment resulting from having said or done something foolish or unwise: They were afraid to back the losing candidate and wind up with egg on their faces.
  2. lay an egg, Informal. to fail wretchedly, especially to be unsuccessful in front of an audience: He laid an egg as the romantic hero.
  3. put all one’s eggs in one basket, to venture all of something that one possesses in a single enterprise.
  4. walk on eggs, to walk or act very cautiously.


  1. the oval or round reproductive body laid by the females of birds, reptiles, fishes, insects, and some other animals, consisting of a developing embryo, its food store, and sometimes jelly or albumen, all surrounded by an outer shell or membrane
  2. Also called: egg cell any female gamete; ovum
  3. the egg of the domestic hen used as food
  4. something resembling an egg, esp in shape or in being in an early stage of development
  5. bad egg old-fashioned, informal
    1. a bad person
    2. an exclamation of dismay
  6. good egg old-fashioned, informal
    1. a good person
    2. an exclamation of delight
  7. lay an egg slang, mainly US and Canadian
    1. to make a joke or give a performance, etc, that fails completely
    2. (of a joke, performance, etc) to fail completely; flop
  8. put all one’s eggs in one basket or have all one’s eggs in one basket to stake everything on a single venture
  9. teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs to presume to teach someone something that he knows already
  10. with egg on one’s face informal made to look ridiculous

verb (tr)

  1. to dip (food) in beaten egg before cooking
  2. US informal to throw eggs at


  1. (tr usually foll by on) to urge or incite, esp to daring or foolish acts

n.mid-14c., from northern England dialect, from Old Norse egg, which vied with Middle English eye, eai (from Old English æg) until finally displacing it after 1500; both are from Proto-Germanic *ajja(m) (cf. Old Saxon, Middle Dutch, Dutch, Old High German, German ei, Gothic ada), probably from PIE *owyo-/*oyyo- “egg” (cf. Old Church Slavonic aja, Russian jajco, Breton ui, Welsh wy, Greek oon, Latin ovum); possibly derived from root *awi- “bird.” Caxton (15c.) writes of a merchant (probably a north-country man) in a public house on the Thames who asked for eggs: And the goode wyf answerde, that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaunt was angry, for he also coude speke no frenshe, but wolde have hadde egges, and she understode hym not. She did, however, recognize another customer’s request for “eyren.” Bad egg in the figurative sense is from 1855. To have egg on (one’s) face “be made to look foolish” is attested by 1948. [Young & Rubincam] realize full well that a crew can sometimes make or break a show. It can do little things to ruin a program or else, by giving it its best, can really get that all-important rating. They are mindful of an emcee of a variety show who already has been tabbed “old egg in your face” because the crew has managed to get him in such awkward positions on the TV screen. [“Billboard,” March 5, 1949] Eggs Benedict attested by 1898. The figure of speech represented in to have all (one’s) eggs in one basket is attested by 1660s. v.c.1200, from Old Norse eggja “to goad on, incite,” from egg “edge” (see edge (n.)). The unrelated verb meaning “to pelt with (rotten) eggs” is from 1857, from egg (n.). Related: Egged; egging. n.

  1. The female sexual cell or gamete; an ovum.

  1. The larger, usually nonmotile female reproductive cell of most organisms that reproduce sexually. Eggs are haploid (they have half the number of chromosomes as the other cells in the organism’s body). During fertilization, the nucleus of an egg cell fuses with the nucleus of a sperm cell (the male reproductive cell) to form a new diploid organism. In animals, eggs are spherical, covered by a membrane, and usually produced by the ovaries. In some simple aquatic animals, eggs are fertilized and develop outside the body. In some terrestrial animals, such as insects, reptiles and birds, eggs are fertilized inside the body but are incubated outside the body, protected by durable, waterproof membranes (shells) until the young hatch. In mammals, eggs produced in the ovaries are fertilized inside the body and (except in the cases of monotremes) develop in the reproductive tract until birth. The human female fetus possesses all of the eggs that she will ever have; every month after the onset of puberty, one of these eggs matures and is released from the ovary into the fallopian tube, where it is either fertilized or discarded during menstruation. In many plants (such as the bryophytes, ferns, and gymnosperms) eggs are produced by flasked-shaped structures known as archegonia. In gymnosperms and angiosperms, eggs are enclosed within ovules. In angiosperms, the ovules are enclosed within ovaries. See also oogenesis.
  2. In many animals, a structure consisting of this reproductive cell together with nutrients and often a protective covering. The embryo develops within this structure if the reproductive cell is fertilized. The egg is often laid outside the body, but the female of ovoviviparous species may keep it inside the body until after hatching.

To fail, or to have one’s efforts fall flat: “Jim tried to tell a few jokes, but each time he forgot the punch line and laid an egg.” A female gamete. Fail, especially in a public performance; make a humiliating error. For example, Carol really laid an egg last night when she forgot her lines, or, as Variety had it in October 1929: “Wall Street Lays An Egg.” The term originated in the late 1800s in vaudeville and was extended to nontheatrical failures in the early 1900s. In addition to the idioms beginning with egg

  • egg in your beer
  • egg on
  • egg on one’s face, have
  • also see:

  • bad egg
  • good egg
  • goose egg
  • kill the goose that lays the golden eggs
  • lay an egg
  • put all one’s eggs in one basket
  • walk on eggs
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