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What is the etymology on "egging on"?

e.g. It was Jack who did it. But Jane was really egging him on.

Does it actually relate to eggs, or is it simply derived from "urging on"?

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@JeffSahol Yes, I looked at that. It suggests the term has something to do with "edge", but I still don't see how it arose. – Urbycoz May 1 '12 at 12:54
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The etymology of the verb egg (on) is the same as that of edge. It is of Old Norse origin, and once described in particular the sharp edge of a sword. Perhaps those who were egged on were once so encouraged by the threat of laceration.

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Or made to listen to U2 guitar riffs incessantly. – JeffSahol May 1 '12 at 13:03
This sense of 'edge'-ing on seems diametrically opposite to 'urge'-ing on as more commonly understood. – Kris May 1 '12 at 13:23
The NOAD lists as the etymology for egg(2), "ORIGIN Middle English : from Old Norse eggja 'incite.' " It also lists eggja as a related etymological word in the entry for edge. I'm not sure how those two are related, but your guess sounds good in the absence of others. – zpletan May 1 '12 at 20:49
The words in the etymology appear to have meant more along the lines of point than edge; perhaps they carried the idea of poking rather than laceration, and it is from this idea that we get egg. – zpletan May 1 '12 at 20:52
To egg on is proper old. Here's an example from 1594: ... should remayne whith more security then they can wel hope to do vnder any Inglish competitor, if he come to the crowne, who shalbe continually egged on by his owne kynred... – Hugo May 3 '12 at 16:36

Robert Hendrickson, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, fourth edition (2008) has this entry for egg on:

egg on The expression to egg on has nothing to do with hen's eggs or any other kind of eggs. Neither does it derive from Norman invaders pricking Anglo-Saxon prisoners in the buttocks with their ecgs ("the points of their spars") when urging them to move faster, as one old story claims. To egg on is jut a form of the obsolete English verb "to edge": to incite, provoke, encourage, urge on, push someone nearer to the edge. To egg someone meant the same as to edge someone and was used that way until about 1566, when the expression was first lengthened and became to egg on.

John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins (1990) has this comment within a longer entry for egg:

Egg 'incite' as in 'egg on', is a Scandinavian borrowing too. It comes from Old Norse eggja, which was a relative or derivative of egg 'edge' (a cousin of English edge).

And Eric Partridge, Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (1958) has this:

egg (2) to to urge or incite; ME eggen: ON eggja, (lit) to put an egg, or edge, on: [cross reference omitted].

So even though an egg doesn't have any identifiable edges, the egg of egg on is all about provoking someone (or some group of people) to the edge of action.

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The origin of the word "egg" as in the expression "egging someone on" actually is expropriated from the first syllable of the customary pronunciation of "exhortation." To exhort is to incite, urge, encourage, push, challenge, advocate and counsel one on to their highest or most extreme attainments.

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Do you have any official source you can cite for that statement? – Kristina Lopez Feb 24 at 18:14

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