Oxford Word of the Month – February: Eggshell blonde

eggshell-blondeEggshell blonde – noun: (also eggshell blond) a man with a bald head.

Three Polished Gentlemen. Never before in the history of Sale have so many ‘egg-shell blonds’ graced the business side of a bar than when three perfect specimens dispensed good cheer at a Sale hostelry t’other afternoon. Two, up from Melbourne, were assisting the licensee. Said one when he saw the polished cranium of the local: ‘Take your wig off’. One customer, a billiards enthusiast, asked which was the spot ball. (Gippsland Times, 12 April 1951)

As this article in the Gippsland Times illustrates, eggshell blonde is used in Australian English as a humorous euphemism for a bald person. The eggshell element is derived from the similarity of a bald head to the shape and smooth texture of a hen’s egg; the blonde element is ironic, and is used in a similar way in other Australian terms such as bushfire blonde for ‘a redhead’. The use of the term may have been influenced by the colloquial term egghead, originally American, denoting a ‘highbrow’, or person of intellect, which increased in frequency in the Australian media from the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The first evidence for eggshell blonde comes from a newspaper report of a dinner held in honour of Tommy Dunn, retiring from a long career with the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission of New South Wales: ‘It was a very happy function, with many good humored references to the “Egg-Shell Blonde”—a sally at the guest’s bald pate.’ (Murrumbidgee Irrigator, 25 August 1944) Other early evidence occurs in a discussion of proper etiquette in the Women’s Section of a Brisbane newspaper:

Until now it seemed impossible to reach agreement on the question whether a man should or should not remove his hat when travelling in a lift with a woman. Personally, I sat on the fence about it. Woman-like, I notice and appreciate the little courtesy. Yet I also feel sympathy towards those men whom Jack Davey calls ‘eggshell blondes’, who feel a chill when travelling hatless in a draught. (Courier-Mail, 10 September 1947)

Evidence for eggshell blonde peaks in the 1950s, but tails off rapidly during the second half of the 20th century. A rare occurrence of the term in the 1970s appears in a description of the audience at a jazz convention:

There are ruddy egg-shell blondes, the rotund and bearded ones and the lean, tanned and long-haired men, the busty wenches in granny skirts, the startling red-haired, slim girl in the multihued dress and the lithe and lissom chicks in a variety of apparel, all of it eyecatching. (Canberra Times, 29 December 1973)

In 1992 Australian writer Kathy Lette used it in her novel Llama Parlour: ‘The only good thing was that, with his clean shaven head—an egg-shell blond we called it at home—nobody had recognised him.’ Despite this example, much of the evidence in recent years is only found in glossaries, or has a historical reference. However, there is the occasional bit of evidence suggesting that it is still used and remembered by some Australians:

Going bald has been one of my worst fears for decades. It began early, watching my father’s thatch dwindle to almost nothing. By the time I was a teenager, he was what is euphemistically known as an eggshell blonde. He claimed his baldness was due to an expanding brain, and they do say you can’t grow grass on a busy street. (Brisbane News, 18 January 2012)

Eggshell blonde will be included in the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary. To find out more about Australian slang, why not check out the ozwords blog.

One thought on “Oxford Word of the Month – February: Eggshell blonde

  1. Pingback: Oxford’s Australian Words of 2015 | Oxford Australia blog

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