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Curate's egg

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The rather quaint and not very well known, but rather useful English expression, " a curate's egg" means something that is partly good and partly bad and as a result is not wholly satisfactory, but also not completely unsatisfactory either! An example in conversational use would be, "Ah Tisshaw - how was your holiday?" "Thank you for asking Carruthers - somewhat of a curate's egg I'm afraid!"

The phrase first appeared in use as a result of a cartoon in the humorous British magazine Punch on 9 November 1895. The cartoon was drawn by George du Maurier and entitled "True Humility", featured a timid looking curate taking breakfast in his bishop's house.

The Bishop says "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones". Apparently trying not to cause offence the curate replies, "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"

Written examples of use cited by the OED

  • 1905 Minister's Gazette of Fashion "The past spring and summer season has seen much fluctuation. Like the curate's egg, it has been excellent in parts."
  • 1962 Oxf. Mag. "All the same it is a curate's egg of a book. While the whole may be somewhat stale and addled, it would be unfair not to acknowledge the merits of some of its parts."
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