Curate's egg

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Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"
"True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895.

A "curate's egg" describes something that is mostly or partly bad, but partly good.

Overview[edit]

In its original context, the term refers to something that is obviously and essentially bad, but is euphemistically described as nonetheless having good features credited with undue redeeming power.[1]

Its modern usage varies. Some authorities define it as something that is an indeterminate mix of good and bad[2] and others say it implies a preponderance of bad qualities.[3]

Origin[edit]

The term derives from a cartoon published in the humorous British magazine Punch on 9 November 1895. Drawn by George du Maurier and titled True Humility, it pictures a timid-looking curate eating breakfast in his bishop's house.[4] The bishop says: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones." The curate replies, desperate not to offend his eminent host and ultimate employer: "Oh no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!" (This clearly cannot be true of a bad egg.)

Antithesis[edit]

The final issue of Punch, published in 1992, reprinted the cartoon with the caption: Curate: This f***ing egg's off![5] Thus Punch drew a contrast with the modern era, implying that younger people have little concern for the niceties of Victorian good manners towards those once considered their social superiors.

Examples[edit]

The following are some examples of actual usage of the term "curate's egg":

  • "The past spring and summer season has seen much fluctuation. Like the curate's egg, it has been excellent in parts." [6][4]
  • "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."[7][4]
  • "Like the curate's egg, the details of Wegener's hypothesis were good in parts."[8]
  • "Fishman... attempted a 'systematization' of SWH [Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis], suggesting that its extreme versions were untenable..., but that, like the curate's egg, it was excellent in parts."[9]
  • "The copper network is undoubtedly very good in parts, very poor in parts, and probably very adequate for most of it. But it is like any linear network: it will have good bits and bad bits... It's like the Curate's egg; it's good in parts." (Malcolm Turnbull, Australia Federal Communications Minister describing the state of the Telstra copper telecommunications network in 2015).[10]
  • "The commanding Rencher was rated a major plus in a curate's egg of a ballet".[11][12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Paraphrase of definition in Collins Dictionary of the English Language, London, 1986, p.381
  2. ^ [1] Oxford Dictionaries definition]
  3. ^ [2] Cambridge Dictionaries definition]
  4. ^ a b c The New Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford University Press. 1998. p. 449. 
  5. ^ van den Bergh, Hubert (2013). How to Sound Really Clever: 600 Words You Need to Know. A & C Black. p. 39. ISBN 1408194856. 
  6. ^ Minister's Gazette of Fashion, 1905.
  7. ^ Oxford Magazine, 1962.
  8. ^ John Gribbin, The Scientists, 2001.
  9. ^ Philip K. Bock, "World view and language", in Encyclopedia of Linguistics, ed. William Bright, vol. 4, Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 250.
  10. ^ big, risky project’: Turnbull says NBN cost will be settled soon. Crikey.com.au (2015-08-25). Retrieved on 2015-08-25.
  11. ^ Antony Tudor's Shadowplay, 1967.
  12. ^ Anonymous, "Derek Rencher, Ballet Dancer," obituary, Daily Telegraph (London), 11 February 2015.