A bad egg

On my writing blog I have been writing about idioms, those common and colourful expressions we use in everyday speech. Many idioms have interesting meanings and sometimes very bizarre origins. Some of them relate to birds in some way. Here is another one to consider:

“A bad egg”


A person who is unreliable or untrustworthy is sometimes referred to as “a bad egg.”


One cannot tell the quality of an egg just by looking at the outer shell. Breaking the egg and looking inside is the usual way of testing the quality of an egg. A bad, or rotten egg, may contain a nasty surprise.

Likewise with people, it is not always possible to tell the true nature of a person judged by outward appearances alone. It is only by getting to know the inner person through friendship that we get to know their reliability and trustworthiness. It is only through a close relationship with a person that we get to know their true character, their inner qualities.

This expression may have been in common spoken usage for some time before its appearance in published form in the 1850s. The opposite expression, “a good egg” did not come into use until the early 1900s and was probably coined by students at Oxford University. Naturally, it refers to a thoroughly reliable and trustworthy person.


  • I wouldn’t trust Percy with the club’s money; he’s such a bad egg.

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