A curate’s egg


What's the meaning of the phrase 'A curate's egg'?

A ‘curate’s egg’ is a bad thing that is called good out of politeness or timidity.

What's the origin of the phrase 'A curate's egg'?

The origin of the phrase is the George du Maurier cartoon “True Humility“, printed in the British satirical magazine Punch, on 9th November 1895. The cartoon gives fuller insight into its meaning, which relies to some extent on an appreciation of irony.

TRUE HUMILITY

Right Reverend Host. “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad Egg, Mr. Jones!”
The Curate. “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!”

Clearly an egg which was partly bad would be entirely unpalatable. The curate, being too timid to complain to his host, looked for something positive to say in reply. That initial meaning of the phrase; to describe something which partly good but which was ruined by its bad part, is now rather lost. That’s not a situation that occurs very often. It’s now more often used just to describe something that is partly good and partly bad; for example:

“How was your day?”
“A bit of a curate’s egg. I got that report finished on time, but the car broke down as soon as I left the office.”

TRUE HUMILITY

Right Reverend Host. “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad Egg, Mr. Jones!”
The Curate. “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!”

Trend of a curate ‘s egg in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.