Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs

Example in use: “Look, I’m sure you know how to do it and I’m not trying to teach my grandmother to suck eggs, but if you need any help using the email system here at the company, just give me a shout. ”

Meaning: Don’t try to give advice to someone who is clearly more experienced than yourself

Possible German equivalent: Da will das Ei wieder klüger sein als die Henne!

Possible origin: In a 1707 translated book, the expression “You would have me teach my Grandame to suck Eggs” appears but this seems to have its roots in a much older idiom from as long ago as the 1500s relating to teaching an older, married woman how to spin wool. In those days, all married ladies would have learnt to spin as a child and therefore would have many, many years of experience by the time they were older women. Obviously they would not have been very appreciative of anyone younger coming along and trying to tell them how to do the activity.

The reason behind the move from spinning to sucking eggs is unclear, nor is there any firm evidence as to why the grandmother would be sucking eggs out of the shell rather than just eating them.

One online source suggested that all older people right up to the early 20th century would have lost all their teeth at an early age and therefore might not have been able to eat much else other than raw eggs. Happily, not only have our teeth improved in the time since then, but also the idea of eating liquid eggs. Just don’t try really teaching your grandmother how to suck eggs today; she might want you to give her a lesson on how to do it after all!

grandmother / ˈɡræn.mʌð.ər


Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.