Like it or not, you probably have eggs on the brain. The massive recall of shell eggs is growing, along with reported cases of salmonella food poisoning. Learn the symptoms of salmonella and why it shares its name with salmon, right here.
While digging into the facts behind this scary situation, we found a story about the word “egg” that almost cracked our shell. Basically, two different terms for “egg” vied with each other across England until the 1500s, when “egg” won out. The loser? The now obsolete word “eye,” which was pronounced just like the things you are using to read these words.
Way back, England faced more invasions than there are ways to cook an egg. The Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes and the Normans are some of the peoples who tried to conquer the island, with varying degrees of success. (It’s probably obvious that England derives its name from the Angles, “land of the Angles.”) Eventually the marauders beat their swords into ploughshares and even fell in love outside of their ancestral groups. Language, however has a way of preserving conflict across generations.
The languages spoken by many of these Germanic groups shared a common ancestor. With time and distance, each strand evolved into distinct languages that were no longer mutually intelligible — which brings us back to “egg.”
Up until the 1500s, residents of the Northern part of England called an egg an “egg,” from Old Norse. But Southerners called the same oval, shelled object an “eye” or “eai” (both rhyming with “guy”), from Old English. Both words started with the same Proto-Germanic root, ajja. Even as William the Conqueror brought stability to the island, the linguistic battle of “egg” raged on in a myriad of conversations until “egg” became what you scramble, and a scrambled “eye” would only earn you confused glances.
If you think all this seems bizarre, wait till you taste the mystery of where the word “coffee” comes from, here.
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