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'Teaching your grandmother how to suck eggs'

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 19, 2005

In Reply to: 'Teaching Grandmothers to suck eggs' posted by Victoria S Dennis on July 14, 2005

: : : does anyone know where 'Teaching Grandmothers to suck eggs' comes from?

: : From the archives:

: : DON'T TRY TO TEACH YOUR GRANDMA TO SUCK EGGS - I don't think anyone knows exactly how this phrase got started. On a farm, an egg-sucking dog (a dog that steals eggs and eats them) is bad. And I think that during one discussion of the phrase, it was said that maybe grandma didn't have teeth so she sucked soft boiled eggs. Anyway, here's what Charles Earle Funk says in A Hog on Ice (Harper & Row, New York, 1948). "To teach one's grandmother to suck eggs - To offer needless assistance; to waste one's efforts upon futile matters; especially, to offer advice to an expert. This particular expression is well over two hundred years old; it is just a variation of an older theme that was absurd enough to appeal to the popular fancy. One of the earliest of these is given in Udall's translation of 'Apophthegmes from the works of Erasmus. It reads: 'A swyne to teach Minerua, was a prouerbe, for which we sai: Englyshe to teach our dame to spyne.'" That last bit was about an expression, don't try to teach a dame to spin.

: I think the presumption is that your grandmother has no teeth and therefore prefers raw eggs to the hard wholemeal-mixed-with-barley bread that was the staple diet of British peasants in the 18th/19th centuries. (The dental health of the 18th-19th-early 20th century British was truly terrible; it was taken for granted that old people were toothless.) (VSD)

This question comes up every now and then. Whose grandmother ever sucked eggs and why? I first encountered the saying about teaching your grandmother how to suck eggs in a book which claimed to contain teachings of Confucius. But inasmuch as the book contained not one word of Chinese, and inasmuch as my Chinese friends have never heard of the saying, I feel unenlightened. VSD's explanation is ingenious and plausible, but I'd like to see it nailed down. By the way, I know how to suck eggs, but didn't learn it from my grandmother. And as far as I know, you don't suck eggs for the nutrition. SS

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