In Life (as in an Omelet) You Need to 'Break Some Eggs'

    18 May, 2019

    Now, Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English.

    On this program, we explore common expressions and idioms a little more in depth, Today, we discuss a popular and common food – eggs!

    People who like eggs think they are egg-xecllent (excellent)! Egg-traordinary (extraordinary)!! Egg-mazing (amazing)!!!

    Okay, that last one didn't really work.

    So, let's talk about cooking with eggs.

    In the mid-1970s, the U.S. American Egg Board -- a group that represents egg farmers -- wanted to create an advertising campaign that captured the usefulness and versatility of the egg. Its ad campaign, called "The Incredible, Edible Egg," told of all the health benefits and showed all the ways we can use eggs in our meals.

    For a party or a snack, in a mousse or in a pack, making omelets for the gang, in a salad or merengue, for a treat right after play, in an elegant soufflé ... the incredible, edible egg.

    And it's true. We use eggs in so many different dishes. And they are one of the most common breakfast foods in the United States. We eat them sunny side up, scrambled or poached, fried on a sandwich or cooked with vegetables or cheese in an omelet.

    a fried egg
    a fried egg

    And that brings us to this cooking-related idiom: "You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs."

    We often say this as an answer to several different situations.

    Here's one:

    Let's say you have an important goal or task. Well, sometimes you must do unpleasant things in order to complete that task or meet that goal. You can say you had to break a few eggs (those are the unpleasant things) to make the omelet (that is the task or goal).

    However, we usually use this idiom in the negative form.

    A: What are you doing?! This place is a mess! The floor is covered with cardboard and paint! And what is that shiny stuff all over the new rug?! B: It's glitter! I'm making some props for my next video project. It's going to be amazing! A: But I can't walk across the floor! I can't even SEE the floor! B: I know it looks bad. But, you know what they say: You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs!

    Ok, here is another situation. Sometimes "You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs" means it is impossible to get something important done without creating a problem for someone else. So, the result may be good for you, but not for everyone.

    Let's hear it used this way in a dialogue.

    A: Our customers are not going to be happy if we move our company to a new city. B: I've looked at the numbers. And moving is the only way we can grow and expand. Taxes are just too high here. A: Well, they are still going to be really angry. B: Look, you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

    Yet another situation involves an element of sacrifice. In order to get something good or useful, you must give up something else.

    A: Look, I don't think I can give up sugar for one whole month. B: Well, that's the only way you are going to lose the weight before your wedding. A: Isn't there another way?? B: You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. A: I don't want an omelet. I want a double-chocolate iced coffee with ice cream on top!

    Now, let's end the show back on cooking. Making an omelet does require some skill. But boiling an egg does not. You boil some water and put an egg in. That is the recipe. So, if we say that someone can't even boil egg, we mean they cannot cook ... at all!

    And that's all the time we have for this Words and Their Stories.

    Until next time ... I'm Anna Matteo.

    Do you have egg idioms in your language? Let us know in the Comments Section.

    Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor. The song at the end is Leo Sayer singing "Can't Make an Omelet Without Eggs" from the movie The Missing Link.


    Words in This Story

    idiom n. an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own

    extraordinary adj. extremely good or impressive

    amazing adj. causing great surprise or wonder : causing amazement

    versatility n. the quality or state of having many uses or being able to do many different kinds of things

    edible adj. fit to be eaten

    scrambled adj. to prepare (eggs) by stirring during frying

    poach v. to cook in simmering liquid

    negative adj. a proposition which denies or contradicts another : an expression (such as the word no) of negation or denial

    glitter n. very small, shiny objects used to decorate a surface

    recipe n. a set of instructions for making food