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Re: Suck eggs

Posted by Bruce Kahl on November 08, 2005

In Reply to: Re: Suck eggs posted by ESC on November 08, 2005

: : : The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, chapter 1: Tom is arguing with a stranger and one of them said "I dare you to knock it off-and anybody that'll take a dare will suck eggs." Does anyone know what is meant by the slang "suck eggs"?
: : Haven't you ever sucked an egg? SS

: And another thing -- an "egg-sucking dog" was a very bad thing to have on a farm.

I found the following, a paste from Wordorigins.com:

"The OED2 does record an obsolete term "to suck the eggs of" meaning "to extract the goodness of, cause to be unproductive" (I suspect relating to the association of sucking eggs with stealing them, sucking being a quick way to eat an egg without preparation or mess--surreptitiously). This is supported with the following quotes:
1576 GASCOIGNE Philomene Wks. 1910 II. 179 Such unkinde, as let the cukowe flye, To sucke mine eggs.
1599 SHAKES. Hen. V, I. ii. 171 The Weazell (Scot) Comes sneaking, and so sucks her Princely Egges.
1602 2nd Pt. Return fr. Parnass. IV. ii, This sucks the eggs of my inuention.
1750 GRAY Long Story 48 A wicked Imp..Who prowl'd the country far and near,..And suck'd the eggs, and kill'd the pheasants.

In addition, we have the noun "suck-egg", with the following senses:
"a. An animal that is reputed to suck eggs, e.g. a weasel, cuckoo; fig. an avaricious person.
"b. A young fellow; slang. a silly person (Barr re & Leland).
"c. attrib. That sucks eggs. Also U.S. dial. (chiefly South and Midland), used to designate a dog regarded as the type of viciousness or worthlessness."

All in all, these seem to add up to a sense of "sucking eggs" as a dishonest, contemptible, or foolish activity. I think it is this, rather than confusion with the "teach your grandmother" phrase, that gives rise to "go suck (an) egg(s)" as a dismissive insult."