Teaching grandmother to suck eggs

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George Cruikshank (27 September 1792 – 1 February 1878) cartoon about teaching Grandma to suck eggs

Teaching (your) grandmother to suck eggs is an English language saying that refers to a person giving advice to another person in a subject with which the other person is already familiar (and probably more so than the first person).[1]

Origins of the phrase[edit]

The origins of the phrase are not clear. The Oxford English Dictionary and others suggest that it comes from a translation in 1707, by J. Stevens, of Francisco de Quevedo (Spanish author):[2] "You would have me teach my Grandame to suck Eggs".[3][4] A record from 1859 is available, implying common usage by that time.[5] Most likely the meaning of the idiom derives from the fact that before the advent of modern dentistry (and modern dental prostheses) many elderly people (grandparents) had very bad teeth, or no teeth, so that the simplest way for them to eat protein was to poke a pinhole in the shell of a raw egg and suck out the contents; therefore, a grandmother was usually already a practiced expert on sucking eggs and did not need anyone to show her how to do it.[6]

Notable early uses[edit]

  • The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, Henry Fielding (1749):[7]

    I remember my old schoolmaster, who was a prodigious great scholar, used often to say, Polly matete cry town is my daskalon. The English of which, he told us, was, That a child may sometimes teach his grandmother to suck eggs.

  • Letter from Percy Bysshe Shelley to Leigh Hunt, 15 August 1819: "But what am I about? If my grandmother sucks eggs, was it I who taught her?"

Related phrases[edit]

The use of the phrase suck-egg for 'a silly person' is dated back to 1609 by the OED.[8]


  1. ^ "The Free Dictionary". Retrieved 2009-05-07..
  2. ^ "Teaching grandmother to suck eggs: Meaning, Origin". Word Histories. 12 October 2016. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  3. ^ "egg, n.", §4b, Oxford English Dictionary Online, 1st edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press), accessed 27 July 2019.
  4. ^ "Teaching one's grandmother to suck eggs". World Wide Words. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
  5. ^ "Teach your grandmother to suck an egg". The Book of Anecdotes, and Budget of Fun: Containing a Collection of Over One Thousand of the Most Laughable Sayings and Jokes of Celebrated Wits and Humorists. Retrieved 30 January 2022.
  6. ^ Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red: the Curious Origin of Everyday Sayings and Fun Phrases, by Andrew Thompson, Copyright 2017, Ulysses Press, Berkeley, California, ISBN 978-1-61243-695-1, 978-1-61243-668-5
  7. ^ Henry Fielding. "The History of Tom Jones a Foundling, Chapter 12". Retrieved 2009-05-07.
  8. ^ "alt.usage.english". Retrieved 2009-05-07.