Daily Archives: February 9, 2011


Maury had invited a few of us – me, Elisa, and Jess – over for brunch, and was setting before us small dishes with eggs and butter floating in them.

“Mmm! What’s this?” exclaimed Elisa Lively.

“It’s a shirred egg,” said Maury.

“Assured of what?” Elisa asked.

“Proper cooking and no absence of cholesterol,” Maury said.

“But can you tell me what you did to it?”



“So what did you do to it?”

“Shirr.” Maury was trying to suppress a smile. He has a wicked streak.


“Yes, I’m sure.”

“What are you sure about?”

“The eggs. I assure you, that egg is a shirred egg.”

I gestured at the yellow goodness my egg was swimming in. “Butter you shirr?”


“OK,” said Jess, “stop milking this or I’ll cream you.”

Maury held up a finger, turned on his heel and went to his cookbook shelf. He returned with a copy of the 1977 English printing of the 1960 edition of the Larousse Gastronomique, open to page 338. He handed it to Elisa with a gesture. She read aloud: “‘Eggs sur le plat, or shirred eggs.’ …Oh! …You’re funny. ‘…For two eggs coat the dish with one half tablespoon butter. Heat on the stove. Break the eggs into the dish and pour melted butter on the yolks. Cook in the oven for as long as is liked and when ready, sprinkle with fine salt.'” She handed the book back. “So I gather that to make shirred eggs, you shirr them.”

“You gather correctly,” Maury said. “In fact, if I may say ‘sew,’ when you shirr you always gather.”

“OK, you’ve lost me again,” Elisa said.

“The meaning of shirr is elastic,” I explained.

“You guys!” Jess said. She turned to Elisa. “Shirr also means ‘gather or draw up fabric using parallel threads’, and a shirred garment has elastic threads woven into it. The noun shirr can mean elastic webbing.”

“Oh,” said Elisa. “What’s the connection?”

“The elastic, of course,” Maury said. Elisa swatted him. “Actually,” Maury said, “I don’t know, and the usual reference sources are not forthcoming on the subject. It may have to do with the appearance of the eggs when they are shirred.”

“Well,” said Elisa, determined to get a wordplay into the match, “I guess you’re the shirriff today.”

“No, this is the Shirriff,” said Maury, gesturing to a jar of Shirriff marmalade that was on the sideboard. “And your toast.” He pointed to a plate of toast on the table.

“I’m toast?” Elisa said.

“Don’t egg him on,” Jess said. “Look, I’m eating.” She took a bite. “Why don’t we all?”

“I hope it’s good,” Maury said.

Jess smiled a little. “Shirr.” (Or perhaps she said “it is” in Mandarin. It sounds about the same…)

What’s the reason to not do it?

I was wandering around through Twitter, and I read the following tweet from someone called @GrammarMonkeys: “not to participate” — there’s no reason to split that infinitive (others, yes, but not this one)

That’s sort of like saying to a chicken, “There’s no reason to cross that road (other roads, yes, but not this one).” You see, what if the chicken just wants to cross the road? Is there a general rule saying “Don’t cross roads without a special reason to do so”? No, there isn’t.

And is there a rule in English that says “Don’t split infinitives” or even “Don’t split infinitives without a special reason to do so”? Continue reading