As we rapidly approach Easter, whether it be from someone we know or some advertisement, we will definitely be exposed to today’s humorous seasonal variation of the word eggciting. Whether religious or secular, old or young, there’s something in today’s word that properly expresses the fun and feeling of elation as the holiday approaches. Aside from simply meeting the word with an eye roll, let’s take a look at where the term comes from, why it is important, and why we use it.
Starting with the base word, excite coming to us from the Latin infinitive excitare, meaning ‘to rouse, call out, or summon forth’, via the Old French esciter. Using this basic meaning, the term was first seen in Richard Rolle’s Psalter, written around 1340, where he writes- appropriately for Easter- that: “the singing of psalms..excites angels to our help.”
Attempting to give the term a greater depth of meaning as arousing something deep and dormant or moving a feeling or emotion from thought to the physical, John Gower’s Middle English poem Confessio Amantis (The Lover’s Confession) notes in 1393 how: “Venus..Hath give him drink..Of the same cup., which excites the lust.” Well, Easter has long been associated with rebirth and fertility, right?
Making the term a verbal noun/gerund (meaning the idea of rousing) occurred in 1656, in Thomas Stanley’s first edition of The History of Philosophy, speaking of Plato’s views of God, states that: “[God] filled all things with himself, exciting the Soul of the World, and converting it to himself.” Again, a key theme of Easter and (beginning on the 20th) Passover.
Still, it would be another 2 centuries before our word eggciting began to acquire the modern, more emotional definition that we associate with it. The stirring-up-feeling concept was first applied to our term in an 1821 issue of Pierce Egan’s pop cultural monthly publication, Life in London, where, as a sort of assertion of truthfulness, the author remarks: “If some of the plates should appear rather warm, the purchasers of ‘Life in London’ may feel assured, that nothing is added to them tending to excite.”
Turning our attention to the egg, it has (unsurprisingly) long been associated with the concept of death and rebirth in the ancient cultures of pre-dynastic Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Crete. Our custom of colouring and decorating eggs for Easter began with early Mesopotamian Christians who dyed eggs red to symbolically commemorate the crucifixion/resurrection of Christ. On the large scale though, while the colouring of the eggs would catch on later, this association of the egg with Easter was first published in 1610 as part of the official ritual works of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church: Rituale Romanum (Roman Ritual) states in Part XI, regarding blessings and other sacramental: “Lord, let the grace of your blessing + come upon these eggs, that they be healthful food for your faithful who eat them in thanksgiving for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you forever and ever.”
So, like an odd, married couple at a party, you may ask, “How did these 2 get together?” Though it sounds like part of some slick Madison Avenue marketing scheme to sell more holiday-themed merchandise, the truth is that we really don’t know. Although there is a mention of the term eggciting in Debbie Routh’s 2004 textbook for grades 4-8, Learning About Vertebrates, the word is likely at least a few decades older. More likely is that it exists just because, in a fun way, it works: the syllables when pronouncing exciting split in just the right way, and the “eks” sound of the first syllable – when said with a lazy tongue – closely resembles the sound of saying “egg”.
Didn’t eggspect that, did you?