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Why are eggs fried (over-)easy while boiled soft? I looked for etymological clues on the phrase "over-easy", but could find one. In both frying and boiling, fully cooked eggs are hard in the sense of stiffness, not of difficulty, so I can't understand where the easiness is coming from.

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In both frying and boiling, fully cooked eggs are hard in the sense of stiffness . . .

No, this is not true.

When frying eggs, easy and hard are flat adverbs referring to how gently (or not) you flip the eggs.

"I want my eggs over-easy."
→ "Be gentle with my eggs. Flip them easy.

In other words, flip the eggs in such a way that the egg yolks don't break. (Whether or not the egg yolks ooze when cut into after the eggs have been served depends on how long they have been fried after having been flipped. Normally, an oozing yolk is the intended result—but it doesn't have to be.)

"I want my eggs over-hard."
→ "Be aggressive with my eggs. Flip them hard.

In other words, flip the eggs in such a way that the egg yolks do break. (There should never be runny yolks when the eggs are served. The yolks will have spread out into the whites when cooked.) Sometimes, people will deliberately break the egg yolks before the eggs are flipped in order to accomplish the same effect. (Breaking an egg on flipping it is not actually simple.)

The description is one that describes the way in which they are flipped over. (Hence, the over- prefix.)

Note that a sunny side up egg is one that is fried but never flipped at all.


When boiling eggs, easy and hard are adjectives that describe the texture of the result. As you say, the words describe the stiffness (generally of the yolk).

Boiled eggs are neither over-easy nor over-hard. They are not flipped over at all. They are simply soft or hard as a result of the cooking time.

  • Today I learned something new. Not having ever ordered fried eggs in a restaurant, it's never on Italian menus, I had always thought that "over-hard" meant cook the unbroken yolks until they are firm (hard). And "over-easy" meant the soft yolks should be easy to break. – Mari-Lou A Apr 18 at 6:58
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    A reference would be extra nice though. – Mari-Lou A Apr 18 at 6:59
  • I learnt something new as well – I never actually knew what the difference is between the two. Like Mari-Lou, I’ve never ordered fried eggs in a restaurant (and when I make them myself, they tend to become what I suspect most people will just call over, full stop). I didn’t even realise there were more conventionally distinct ways than sunny side up and flipped over! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 18 at 11:09
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    See Gimme Some Oven: How to Make Fried Eggs. As a former professional (I had to make money while at university), I'd say it's mostly correct. It also links to correct ways to boil eggs (poach, soft-boil, hard-boil). It goes a little bit wrong with over-hard, in that professionally, to save time, we broke the egg yolks; it also fails to mention that most commercial breakfast cooks set the grill or the egg-pan burner--what I used--temperatures too high, and so do not properly cook the egg-whites for over-easy and over-medium. – JEL Apr 18 at 18:49
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    @JEL Frying eggs at home, I've discovered it's best to use low heat and cover the frying pan. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Apr 18 at 18:54

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