Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eggs Over Easy? Or Over Easily?

One of our members just sent in this question:

My optometrist told me he once joked with a breakfast server by ordering his eggs 'over easily,' rather than 'over easy.'

Understandably, spoken language in this setting is casual; however, in theory, is one form more acceptable than the other? Or, is the use of 'easy' in this case automatically recognized as an adverb?

I suspect the preposition 'over' complicates matters and may originate from how eggs were, and continue to be, served over toast.

Some food for thought; no pun intended!
We love questions like this.

Easy is an adverb as well as an adjective, and it means "without difficulty." So in another context, something like "sleep easy" is grammatical (even if some people say it's not).

So is it an adverb or a noun here?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "over easy" is a 79-year-old idiom that works as an adjective. That means it's modifying the noun "eggs." It's in a special class of adjectives the OED calls postmodifiers, which means it's a phrase follows what it modifies, limiting the meaning of the original word.

Here's the definition:


Of a fried egg: turned over when almost cooked and fried briefly on the reverse side. Also occas. of other fried foods. Cf. sunny side up at SUNNY adj. 5b(c), once over lightly at ONCE adv., conj., adj., and n. Phrases 11. Chiefly as postmodifier.

1930 Newark (Ohio) Advocate & Amer. Tribune 30 Aug. 4 Mikos, a restaurant owner, received an order for ‘two over easy’. He broke one egg into a pan and it was perfect. But the next egg, on being broken, yielded no yolk. 1945 California Folklore Q. 4 53 ‘Sunny side up’ and ‘Over easy’ are used in many American homes. 1946 Amer. Speech 21 88/2 Over easy, eggs fried lightly on both sides. 1972 J. MITCHELL Barangrill (song) in Compl. Poems & Lyrics (1997) 89 Ah, her mind's on her boyfriend And eggs over easy. 1994 Trav. & Leisure Dec. 67/1 A menu that includes over-easy fried porcupine, deep-boiled ox,..and fried silk worms. 2000 Elle Sept. 79/1 Sarah Jessica slithers into a seat and orders two eggs over easy, bacon and a toasted bagel.

So, the optometrist is being funny by being hypercorrect. But it's the kind of funny that means he probably shouldn't quit his day job.

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