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The phrase "egg in your beer" refers to wanting a bonus or something for nothing. Its common usage is: "What do you want? An egg in your beer?" However, this does not seem to make much sense, as an egg in your beer doesn't sound like a bonus at all! Does anyone know the etymology of this phrase? I have only managed to find two hypotheses:

  1. At one time, in some parts of the United States, an egg in an alcoholic beverage may have been considered an aphrodisiac.
  2. The phrase arose from, or became popularized by, American WWII soldiers. It may have been alluding to the notion that in wartime, both beer and eggs were not easily obtained.

However, I've found no definitive references to back up either of these claims.

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Since when are catch phrases supposed to make sense? –  Robusto Feb 17 '12 at 19:15
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Idioms typically have some reason for their existence. –  mipadi Feb 17 '12 at 19:17
    
I wonder if this is related to teach your grandma to suck eggs, where I think the "egg" part is a red herring and isn't supposed to make sense. –  Marthaª Feb 17 '12 at 22:19
    
@Martha: ??? The idiom is precisely because elderly toothless grandmothers are supposed to suck eggs as a staple diet, so don't need advice. –  TimLymington Mar 8 '12 at 14:13
    
Over 300 years ago they said things like 'tis such a glib morsel, going down, we fancy, like a new laid Egg in a Glass of Wine. As a Brit today, if I expect too much I'm more likely to want jam on it. But I've certainly come across "You want chips with that?" as sarcastic response to a long list of demands. –  FumbleFingers Jan 9 at 12:28

5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Aeroplane factory slang

The earliest example I can find of the phrase pre-dates World War II, in the April 1938 edition of American Speech (Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 155-157) in a list of "Aeroplane Factory English" by Edwin R. Coulson:

EGG IN YOUR BEER. An easy job; something for nothing.

A footnote says this "trade dialect" was collected at the Douglas Factory, Santa Monica, California.

Army slang

The October 1941 edition of American Speech (vol XVI, no 3) carried a "Glossary of Army Slang", including:

EGG IN YOUR BEER. Too much of a good thing.

The earliest military use I found was by PFC. George H. Willers of the US Marine Corps in a letter to Life magazine (8th September 1941):

Just what the hell do they want — eggs in their beer? The undersigned, a marine, "goes out to sea in ships" and is only too glad to get ashore once a month or so, even though it may not be these blessed shores, to places where the beer is lukewarm, where ice cream comes from a cow by way of a powdered-milk can, and the food in restaurants looks like it has been eaten before.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms says:

This expression dates from about 1940 and became widespread during World War II. The origin is unknown, since adding egg to beer does not improve the taste.

A December 1946 American Speech (vol XXI, no 4) includes 'Army Speech in the European Theater’ by Joseph W. Bishop, Jr.:

“Whaddya want—an egg in your beer?" Properly, this is the retort courteous to a gripe, or bitch, which is not fully justified. By loose usage, it has become an answer to any and all complaints. I do not know its etymology, but my assumption has always been that it is based on the fact that fresh eggs and real beer were two of the scarcest desiderata in the ETO [European Theater of Operations], the possession of one of which ought to have sufficed any man. There is some evidence that it has been prevalent around Brooklyn for years, but at any rate it has had wider currency in the Army than ever before and has been more apt.”

Dewdroppers, Waldos, and Slackers: A Decade-by-Decade Guide to the Vanishing Vocabulary of the Twentieth Century (2003) by Rosemarie Ostler lists it under the forties:

egg in your beer: too much of a good thing. What do you want, egg in your beer? was a common retort to pointless or unjustified complaining since in the wartime world either an egg or a glass of beer alone should have been a sufficient luxury for anybody.

The Facts on File dictionary of clichés suggests it could be an aphrodisiac, and mentions an 1883 recipe containing egg white and mead, but says these rare recipes are probably unrelated to the saying, and that it "is presumably viewed as some kind of enrichment".

Eric Partridge's A Dictionary of Catch Phrases (1986):

what do you (or, illiterately yet frequently, whaddya) want? eggs (or an egg) in your beer? 'Usually said to be someone who is bitching or griping without justifiable cause. I have heard this used only by Marines, but I strongly suspect that it was borrowed from civilian use' (Col. Moe 1975). Therefore, tentatively: C20; civilian become, during WW2, Marine Corps.

'I heard this first in 1937, (as ...egg...) and in a civilian context. Certainly it has been in general (not just USMC) use since then' (R.C., 1978). A shorter var. is you want an egg in your beer?; cf what do you want? Jam on it?

Real egg in real beer

A preview from a (probable 1915) Catering industry employee: Volume 24 reports on a Seattle court case on whether egg-in-beer is food or a drink:

enter image description here

And:

EC Maddox, another witness for the city, asserted he paid a nickel and received an egg in his beer. On the stand, in his own behalf, Aronson averred that egg-in-beer is one of the oldest combinations known to mixologists.

Von Ziemssen's Handbook of General Therapeutics (1885) lists "Warm beer with egg" and Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews lists "Root Beer with Egg".

The Archives of Pediatrics (1916) says with surprise:

Other foods recommended were French bread, hashed meats, and, last but not least, small beer with egg yolks beaten in ! ! !

A 19th century The Pet-Stock, Pigeon, and Poultry Bulletin says:

It is an old-fashioned recipe to clear warm beer with egg shells, and coffee with the yelk of an egg, and the clearing properties of the yelk of an egg seems to have been known to the Romans...

So, who's going to test it out and crack an egg into their beer this weekend?

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In these days of salmonella-tainted eggs, no thank you! –  Gnawme Feb 17 '12 at 20:32

Many people have a problem with this expression, because - their thinking goes - "Why would you put an egg in your beer? That would ruin it!"

Many years ago, an uncle of mine from Wisconsin told me that this was a bit of a delicacy. Drop the raw egg in the beer, and then swig it all down at the end of the draught. I even went so far as to try it (to be candid, it doesn't really taste like anything; just an extra blob or mass with the last swallow). Maybe the value is in the free protein?

Anyhow, it may seem shocking, but certainly no more gross than eating, say, a raw oyster, which is also considered a delicacy.

I think the phrase gets its meaning because you're getting something for nothing - because beers don't usually have eggs. Much like "having your cake and eating it, too."

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+1. This is exactly what I want in an EL&U answer: a new phrase, a plausible and well-supported derivation, and the result of research which, even in the name of science, I would never in a thousand years undertake. –  TimLymington Feb 17 '12 at 22:58
    
Warren Beatty downs a mug of beer with an egg in it as part of his performance in R.Altman's "McCabe & Mrs Miller", so you know it must be good -the libation and the movie both. (Actually, I suspect J.R.'s surmise that the eggs serve as 'free protein' is the right one; look at how many bars serve boiled eggs to their drinking clientele even today.) –  fortunate1 Feb 18 '12 at 14:22

An alternative explanation for this phrase that I have heard elsewhere, is that raw eggs used to be used to remove the cloudiness in beer - this Wikipedia article on Finings appears to confirm that egg whites have been used historically for this purpose.

Unclarified beer would presumably have been significantly cheaper, but not as pleasant to drink - so the connotation of adding an egg to your beer would be something relatively luxurious and expensive; something of a paradox, since in English-speaking countries beer has typically been a relatively cheap drink.

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My late father used this phrase now and again. It was late 1930s to early 40s vinatge, and was used by the blue-collar, working class (he was a steelworker). It does mean getting something extra or beyond what was expected, but literally, working class bars back then often kept eggs on hand for the night shift getting off of work, as a raw egg dumped in a stein of beer was a "liquid breakfast."

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I think this is a long held misnomer. It is not "Whaddaya want? Eggs in your beer?", which has no credible meaning. It's "Whaddaya want? Ice in your beer?" — meaning, especially in WWII, you should be thankful for a beer, even if it isn't ice-cold, either in England or the Pacific. Plus the irony that every beer drinker knows, adding ice to a warm beer destroys the carbonation and the taste! It is like a Greek tragedy: Be thankful for what you have, don't try, like Icarus, to make it too perfect and, and in doing so, screw it up. You gotta a warm beer? Be thankful for it and don't ruin it, because it can't be fixed without god-like patience.

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I think that phonetic reclassification is unlikely here: a voiced velar stop is about as far as you can get from a voiceless alveolar spirant. –  StoneyB Nov 24 '12 at 23:42
    
@StoneyB: 'egg' and 'ice' may not sound similarly now, but are cognates ('ice' < OE 'ojs' < proto-Ger 'ogga' = hard/round which is the source for 'egg'). See the lengthy AHD entry on 'yolk' (but not 'yoke'). –  Mitch Nov 25 '12 at 2:48
    
Look up the words for "egg" and "ice" in German, and be careful what you order in the old country....this may add some credence to what I am saying. –  jerry woelke Nov 30 '12 at 23:36
    
Is there any evidence for "Whaddaya want? Ice in your beer?", especially in WWII? –  Hugo Dec 1 '12 at 8:10

protected by RegDwigнt Nov 24 '12 at 23:31

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