Have you ever had egg on your face? Possibly, after eating eggs. But someone having egg on their face is also an idiomatic expression meaning to look foolish after having made some mistake. The expression is figurative in that the person doesn’t really have egg on their face. But, does the expression come from having remnants of egg yolk left on one’s face after eating soft-cooked eggs? Perhaps, but it is difficult to be sure.
It appears the first recorded use of the expression in America was sometime in the 1950’s. It was, for instance, heard on the Front Page Detective television series, which aired from July 6, 1951, to September 19, 1952. This puts to rest the suggestion that the expression originated with political races during the 1960’s when opponents of a candidate would throw eggs at him to make him look ridiculous.
Many supposed that the actual origin of the idiom is much older. One suggestion is that it arose during the Victorian theater during the 1800’s or the later Vaudeville acts. It may be that the expression referred to the audience pelting bad actors or performers with eggs (perhaps rotten ones). However, during the slapstick comedies of the time, actors would sometimes use break eggs on the forehead of a “fall guy” to make him look foolish and add to the comedy. This was the Victorian equivalent of a pie in the face.
Farmers and others who live in rural regions of the United States say that the expression came from dogs who would sometimes sneak a snack of eggs from the henhouse and then walk around with egg on their face, displaying the evidence for all to see.