Chickens and eggs are as English as custard and apples and as Swedish as sill och potatis or blodpudding med lingonsylt. Our folk wisdom is filled to overflowing with them. We even talk of a worthless person as a bad egg and it is a great compliment to be referred to as a good egg.
And then we say things like getting egg on your face to indicate that somebody looks foolish; or a chicken and egg situation when we mean that it is impossible to tell which is the cause and which the effect. We also tell people not to teach their grandmother to suck eggs when they venture above their intellectual station and try to teach those older and wiser than themselves. Americans sometimes talk of laying an egg when a stand-up comedian is forced to sit down promptly by a jeering audience.
Taking eggs for money used to be common verbal currency before there was a cheque in the post. H.G.Wells took this notion to extremes when he went to Russia in 1921. He packed both eggs and money...and found the eggs rather more useful as a means of exchange.
As for the Swedes, they talk about cooked eggs giving no chickens - av kokta ägg blir inga kycklingar; and advise their children not to count their chickens before they are hatched - räkna inte kycklingar förrän de är kläckta. The English have this one too.
Then there are egg and spoon races. And not only in England. The last one I took part in was at a midsommerfest on Ljusterö, a little way north of Stockholm. Meanwhile Jonathan Swift had reports of a terrible war starting over the touchy question of which end of the egg the spoon should break open. Gulliver finally managed to resolve the issue with skilful diplomacy but that is another story. Until that time the Big-enders and the Little-enders had formed themselves into parties and there was mayhem throughout the Land of Lilliput.
Nor is the chicken left out of matters by the humble oval body that we know as the egg. Call somebody chicken and you could have a vendetta on your hands. It is an insult reflecting less than favourably on the person's bravery. Chicken is also a game of sorts. James Dean got forced into playing it when rebelling without a cause. He won but his pal was killed. Nigerians play the same game where their highways have just one track of tarmac. And there is a very good joke about the Hell Run that goes from the copper fields of Zambia to the Tanzanian port of Dar-es-Salaam. Remind me to tell it you some other time.
So you see what a wonderful world there is among our proverbs and our folk wisdom. We even ask why the chicken crossed the road...and reply that he wanted to get to the other side. Very funny, but why a chicken? And as to chickens coming home to roost, this is definitely something to steer clear of. It means that your actions will have unpleasant consequences in the fullness of time...a sort of vernacular karma theory.
But a word of warning. Egging somebody on has nothing to do with chickens. It means to urge them or even incite them. It comes from the Old Norse word eggja...the word that has given us the English word edge. Tant pis! What a shame! I could have used it in my Proverbial Talks about the chicken and the egg. Very edgy!