The Chicken or the Egg Question Revisited

by | April 5, 2015

Simon Thomas from Oxford Words Blog examines “the ontological quandary: ‘which came first: the chicken or the egg?’”


After discussing “the earliest recorded use of chicken in English” and the complexity of  egg,

we are more interested (for the purposes of this riddle) in egg meaning ‘the (more or less) spheroidal body produced by the female of birds and other animal species, and containing the germ of a new individual, enclosed within a shell or firm membrane’. Well, this is found in another Old English document: ‘On æge bið gioleca on middan’ (‘In an egg there is a yolk in the middle’). Although the egg-as-offspring must predate the egg-as-culinary-fare, we do not know which was written about first.

Thomas admits it’s

A draw

So, when somebody asks you “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”, you can question what they mean by chicken and what they mean by egg, but you can’t offer a conclusive lexicographical answer; both date from the Old English period, so we’ll call it a draw. It is also worth noting that neither chicken nor egg have yet been revised in the ongoing creation of the third edition of the OED. It’s possible that this question will be resolved when the entries are updated, but for now we can’t be certain.

Maybe James Lunney can help the OED to resolve the question. Lunney rushes in where “militant atheists” fear to tread.

3 thoughts on “The Chicken or the Egg Question Revisited

  1. Diana MacPherson

    The egg came first because there weren’t chickens always because….evolution (dinosaurs).

      1. Diana MacPherson

        Nice! I need a new copy too as my OED is from the 90s


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