Is it known if there was some weird flipping of [Ei (egg in German) and eye] with [Auge(eye in German) and egg] that happened historically or do you think the apparent similarities are coincidence?

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    Also, partly because eyes do look a bit like eggs. – Richard Peterson Nov 16 '14 at 12:43
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    When a merchant from the north of England wants to buy eggs from a woman in the south of England, he "axyed for eggys," and she thought he was speaking French. When finally another in the store mentioned "eyren," all made sense. I have not been able to account for exactly how the g showed up. directdutch.com/2014/04/word-of-the-day-ei-egg – Daniel Briggs Nov 17 '14 at 7:37

New High German (NHG) Auge and English eye are believed to descend from Proto-Germanic *augan- and Proto-Indo-European *ōkū-.

NHG Ei and English egg are from PG *ajjam- and PIE *ōiom.

These words are not related. The homophony of modern English eye with modern German Ei is accidental. There is no “weird flipping".

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    Definitely not ōiom. – Anixx Nov 16 '14 at 14:26
  • What's NHG? Something something German? – curiousdannii Nov 17 '14 at 12:43
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    "New High German". – fdb Nov 17 '14 at 12:43
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    It may be worth mentioning that English had ey until relatively recently, and that egg is a cognate borrowed from the Norse branch. It explains some of the inconsistency. – Adam Bittlingmayer Jan 30 '16 at 6:56

Notice the consistent phonetic correspondence between the English -(e)y- and the German -(i)g- or -(i)ch-:

  • honey - Honig,
  • yester(day) - gestern,
  • day - Tag,
  • eye - Auge,
  • etc.

The reason for this is the palatalization of -g- in certain Germanic dialects, like English. The same English -y- is also the equivalent of the German -j- or -ie- (as in year - Jahr, etc). Hope this helps!

Egg and Ei (pronounced eye), just like the other pairs above, are forms of the same word. Unlike the others, though, all of which are native to English and derive from an initial Germanic g-form, this one is inherited directly from the Nordic egg, and its original form is actually in y (we know this because otherwise we'd expect Latin ocum instead of ovum, for instance). Apparently, Nordics not only kept the original Germanic k and g intact, but sometimes even legitimate Germanic y became k or g (possibly a hypercorrective tendency).

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    It was not that the -g got palatalised in German dialects (Bavarian has a hard [k] there), but that it palatalised in English. – Darkgamma Nov 17 '14 at 13:39
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    @Darkgamma: English is the “Germanic dialect” that I was talking about. Forgive the confusion. – Lucian Nov 18 '14 at 1:49
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    What has it to do with egg? – Adam Bittlingmayer Jan 30 '16 at 6:49
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    @A.M.Bittlingmayer: Egg and Ei (pronounced eye), just like the other pairs above, are forms of the same word. Unlike the others, though, all of which are native to English and derive from an initial Germanic g-form, this one is inherited directly from the Nordic egg, and its original form is actually in y (we know this because otherwise we'd expect Latin ocum instead of ovum, for instance). Apparently, Nordics not only kept the original Germanic k and g intact, but sometimes even legitimate Germanic y became k or g (possibly a hypercorrective tendency). – Lucian Jan 30 '16 at 11:49
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    You needn't tell me, I am just saying that a satisfactory answer must contain some explanation of the word egg. – Adam Bittlingmayer Jan 30 '16 at 17:21

Here are the entries from DWDS:

Ei n. aus Schale, Eiweiß und Eigelb bestehendes Hühner-, Vogelei, ahd. (8. Jh.), mhd. asächs. mnl. nl. ei, mnd. ey, aengl. ǣg (engl. egg aus dem Anord.), anord. egg, schwed. ägg führen auf germ. *ajjam bzw. (wegen des r- Plurals im Aengl. und im Hd.) auf *ajjaz. Der anlautende Vokal kann auf eine schwundstufige Form (ie. ə) zurückgehen oder Kürzung des im Germ. zu ā gewordenen ie. ō sein, das sich in den Formen verwandter Sprachen findet, griech. ōón (ᾠόν), lat. ōvum, kymr. wy, aslaw. ajьce, russ. jajcó (яйцо). Als Ausgangsformen können für diese Sprachen im wesentlichen ie. *ōu̯i̯om, daraus gekürztes *ōi̯om, und wohl auch *ōu̯om angesetzt werden. Zweifellos besteht eine Verbindung zu ie. *əu̯ei- (oder *au̯(e)i- ?), *u̯(e)i- ‘Vogel’ in aind. vḗḥ, vī́ḥ, lat. avis ‘Vogel’, wahrscheinlich auch griech. aietós (αἰετός) ‘Adler’. Je nach Beurteilung des Ablautverhältnisses im Rahmen der ie. Wortbildung wäre danach Ei ursprünglich ‘das zum Vogel Gehörige’ oder der Vogel das ‘Eiertier’. Anders SCHINDLER in: Die Sprache 15 (1969) 166, der für seinen Ansatz ie. *ō-ə̯ui̯-óm ‘Ei’, eigentl. ‘das beim Vogel Befindliche’, von einer präpositionalen Verbindung (mit ie. *ō ‘nahe bei’, s. Ohnmacht) ausgeht. Schon früh wird ‘Vogelei’ auf die Eier anderer Tiere (Insekten, Reptilien, Fische) sowie allgemein auf die weibliche Keimzelle übertragen. –

and this:

Auge n. Organ des Gesichtssinnes. Ahd. ouga (8. Jh.), mhd. ouge stimmt mit asächs. ōga, mnd. ōge, mnl. ōghe, nl. oog, aengl. ēage, (angl.) ēge, engl. eye, anord. auga, schwed. öga, dän. øje, got. augō überein. Die Herleitung von germ. *augan- aus ie. *okū- ‘sehen, Auge’, das sich aus aind. ákṣi, griech. ómma (ὄμμα), Dual ósse (ὄσσε), lat. oculus (s. Okular), aslaw. oko, russ. (älter) óko (око), lit. akìs ‘Auge’ erschließen läßt, ist durch die germ. Lautgestalt erschwert, wird aber doch für wahrscheinlich gehalten. Allgemein nimmt man an, daß der Vokal eines regulär entwickelten germ. *agw- (dieses z. B. noch in ahd. awizoraht ‘augenscheinlich’, um 800, acsiunī ‘äußere Erscheinung’, 9. Jh.) unter dem Einfluß von germ. *auzan- ‘Ohr’, vgl. ahd. ōra und (mit grammatischem Wechsel) got. ausō (s. Ohr), umgebildet wurde. Vielleicht hat dabei auch Ausgleich zwischen verschiedenen Flexionsformen eine Rolle gespielt; vgl. FEIST 364. –

Proto-Indo-European is a reconstructed language, not an attested language. The issue here is not the precise reconstruction of long-lost sounds, but merely the observation that “eye” and “Ei” are not related etymologically.

(By the way, Beekes reconstructs IE *h₂ōui-o for “egg” and *h₃ekw for “eye”.)

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  • Surely not *h2ekw but *h3-? – TKR Nov 17 '14 at 0:49
  • You are right. I have corrected it. – fdb Nov 17 '14 at 11:56

This is a synthesis of a few other answers, since I haven't seen any that cover all of the details (and in particular how we ended up with "egg").

As Lucian says (in his excellent and detailed answer), /g/ in German often corresponds to /j/ in English, particularly next to a front vowel (/i/ or /e/). This is why the 'g' in Auge corresponds to the 'y' in eye.

However, "egg" isn't an inherited Germanic word. English is an interesting case because it mixes lots of words from different languages together. In most cases, when you see a 'g' next to an 'i' or 'e' in English, it was borrowed from somewhere else—even for such common words as give, borrowed from Norse (and displacing the inherited yive)!

"Egg" also comes from the Norse side of the Germanic family tree, which kept 'g' next to 'e' (and sometimes even stuck it in where it didn't used to be), and for a while it co-existed with the inherited word. William Caxton, the first person to use a printing press for English, complained about that word in particular:

And specyally he axyed after eggys. And the good wyf answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaunt was angry for he also coude speke no frenshe but wold haue hadde egges and she understode hym not. And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde haue eyren. Then the good wyf sayd that she understood hym we.

What sholde a man in thyse dayes now wryte, egges or eyren, certaynly it is harde to playse every man.


And in particular [the merchant] asked for "eggys". But the good wife answered that she couldn't speak French. And the merchant was angry, for he couldn't speak French either, but wanted "egges", and she didn't understand him. And then at last another person said he wanted "eyren". Then the good wife said that she understood him well.

So what should a man write these days, "egges" or "eyren"? Certainly, it's hard to please everyone!

Once again, the inherited word has a 'y'! The -ren is a plural marker, like in "child-ren"; the singular was ey, which looks very much like the German. But "egges" won out—due to Caxton's printing, partially—and "eyren" faded into oblivion.

(It's also possible that "egg" won because "ey" and "eye" were too similar, and that got confusing! See for example how "ink pen" is displacing "pen" in American dialects that merge "pin" with "pen". But that's speculation, nothing more.)

So as others have said, the similarity of these words is a complete coincidence. If they're related, it's farther back than we can reconstruct, back before Proto-Indo-European.

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    This is probably the answer the Q was looking for. A light explanation. However, for a technical remark on your notion that "egg" was not inherited. As far as I can tell there exists a significant population that inherited the word in an unbroken chain from parent to child. Your quote shows that the competition caused a difficult process. I'm not sure the technical terminology is sufficient to capture the details of reality. Likewise, the "complete coincidence" of Linguists must be interpreted as "fifty fifty chance, we really don't know" or at best "there's no good reason to think so". – vectory Jan 19 '19 at 15:45
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    @vectory Oh yeah, to clarify, I mean "not inherited" in the sense that it wasn't an unbroken chain from PGmc to OE to MidE to ModE. Certainly it was inherited from parent to child all the way through there, it just came from a non-English source in the first place. – Draconis Jan 19 '19 at 15:50
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    @vectory The complete coincidence, though, doesn't mean a 50-50 chance. It just means we don't know enough to give any sort of reliable answer on it. Doesn't mean the odds are 50-50, but means we can't say with any sort of certainty either way. – Draconis Jan 19 '19 at 15:52
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    Oh, the Northern Invasion is a hallmark for the definition of Middle English. So you could say "Middle English egg was not inherited from Old English" to avoid the problem, and I wouldn't need wonder what caused *ajja > ON egg. However, I'm reluctant to do the edit. Positive formulations are preferable, but you probably wouldn't say inherited from ON. A simple tree model is insufficient. The word is rather grafted, than borrowed. Old Saxon also knew an egg, I wonder how. – vectory Jan 19 '19 at 16:34
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    it means on the face of it that you assume a 0/100 chance, yet you admit that you don't know. I find that unacceptable. You can have priors that tilt the assumption, perhaps for any word the chance is less than half of all other words to be related directly, but the number differs between cognate sets. The fact that both eyes and eggs are round, white on the outside, something well kept in many languages' idioms, and that body parts are prone for metaphor gives the idea some favor. However without a program that would use it, putting a number on it is inconsequential. – vectory Jan 22 '19 at 5:46

No, egg comes from something like PIE a̯ōu̯iom "egg" (some speculate, from the word for bird).

The eye comes from PIE o̯oq̆u "eye".

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    Whose reconstructions? I don't recognize the q with breve. – echristopherson Nov 16 '14 at 21:17
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    I can't make sense of what transcription system you use. – Darkgamma Nov 17 '14 at 13:40
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    Anixx frequently posts here, with this PIE transciption that I've never seen anywhere else. – Colin Fine Dec 18 '17 at 11:42
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    Weird thought: How does o̯oq̆u "eye" compare to hawk and hawkeye? The reconstruction is PIE *kopuǵos, which except for the *p would be a reasonable match for your "eye". Wiktionary mentions a suggested *keh2p "to seize" (which probably figures with bird of prey, one that "seize" prey). Eggs are commonly caught, not kept. Make of that what you will, the point is, a superficial reconstruction of the youngest PIE layer does not suffice to exclude a genetic relation, though in contrast proving it would be exceedingly difficult. Eggs and eyes compare in shape and color in various ways. – vectory Jan 17 '19 at 1:51
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    Your interest isn't enough to support an argument, quite literally. – vectory Jan 17 '19 at 13:54

The question cannot be answered beyond reasonable doubt. The two words egg and eye have different roots, as far as we can see, but we cannot see indefinitely far back.


The derivation for egg can be found in wiktionary as from Proto-Indo-European *h₂ōwyóm "egg", what @Anixx gives as *a̯ōu̯iom and @fdb as *ōiom. The wiktionary entry is well sourced at least. It notes that the reconstruction does not account well for all forms, and relates the theory that it derives from *h₂éwis "bird", perhaps from *h₂ew-.

*h₂ew-, derives quite different senses, importantly "to perceive, see, to be aware of" (deriving e.g. *ear* via *h₂ṓws, audio via *h₂ewis-dʰh₁-, Sanskr avis "before the eyes, openly, manifestly, evidently"). Therefore, the relation between eyes and eggs has to be reconsidered.

Eggs and eyes compare well at least in shape and color. Another sense given for *h₂ew- is "to dress, clothe", which (is not sourced, but) might be comparable to *(s)kewH- "to cover"; What I'm getting at is the egg-shell, of course, which is reasonable if Ger. Schale appears in sich in Schale werfen "to dress fine", and if the Proto-Germanic root *skal glossed "testicles" is to be believed--eggs is a euphemism for the nuts in many languages. In general, egg is a figurative name for things bearing creation (the female ova, the philosopher's egg?).

If *-yom were supposed to be a suffix, I wouldn't know where else it appears. "m" only appears in Latin ovum and Avestan aem, and perhaps in Ancient Greek oion, so merely in 3 out of the ca. 20 descendants listed for the entry, where "-um" and "-on" might have been innovations (I really don't know and don't have access to the sources right now). There might be a sound law that deletes m after w. I should suppose that a derivation from *h₂ew- directly, without considering *h₂ōwyóm, is impossible. But it seems so much more likable, for how short all the other derived egg words are. I did at first assume that *h₂ōwyóm in fact meant "chicken egg", but as said, I don't know what *-yóm alone should be. Even if it was in fact a productive suffix, I would consider that the suffix had to come from somewhere and that something as common as egg would be a suitable source.

For eye on the other hand I don't have that much to say. In wiktionary it's derived from *h₃ekʷ-. The state of the art doesn't know a comparison between *h₃ekʷ- and *h₂ew-, simply because the comparative method can only reconstruct the latest form of PIE, without mass comparison to other Language families. The superficial similarities in the notation are less pronounced if opting for @fdb's and @Anixx's preferred forms, anyhow.


An analogy to Semitic holds the interesting clue that I want to mention. In Arabic for example, ayn means "eye", but also "well, spring". An allusion to holes would work for both meanings; Also compare to look and Ger. Luken "windows, opening", (rarely) luken "to look". The thing is that *h₂ew- has a third gloss "wish, desire", which seems to be synonymous with *welh₁- (whence will, and well); All the while the water well is given the root *wel- "to turn, coil". The sense "to turn" reminds of round forms, again. More importantly, eggs are the source of life. This might be more than coincidence. Something to keep in mind is the notion that Greeks believed light came from the eyes. Further, as far as covers and seeing is concerned, we discover that cover is from cooperio, operio from *hepi "towards" + *h₂wer- "to cover, shut" and I find that *h₂wer- does look reasonably close to *h₂ew-.

However, Arabic has bayd for "eggs". It might not strengthen the above argument significantly, but bayd obviously looks akin to beth "house", for the reason given above concerning shell. English house is from *(s)kew "to cover" but in PIE the term was *weyḱ-, whence Ancient Greek οἶκος (oikos) and ecology. Houses may have had personal wells dug, or at least a village (also from *weyḱ-) had to have one. And it's pretty much the first thing to do when settling down, to see if there's water.

I'd like to connect *óynos "one" to οἶκος and egg (as if Ger. Ei "egg" directly from *oy or *ow, which shows my bias), assuming that a mere dot or a circle had meant 1 before the idea of 0 was fully developed. The idea that counting starts with a small thing from which everything else follows (ie. the numbers) is pretty intriguing.

I suppose that *-yom relates to *oyn- But I also think oinkology rather refers to pigs oink oink (´・(oo)・`) so ymmv

Another analogy I mentioned under @Anixx's answer is hawkeye, where hawk goes to *keh2p- "capture", where *keh2- would yet again derive senses relating to "desire, wish". We can also compare carpe "seize", *kerp- "to pluck, harvest", so "to take" would be the common denominator. That goes back to *(s)ker-~*(s)kel(H)- "to cut, split, separate; to bend, turn", so we have come full circle, back to *wel-, and are none the wiser. *ḱel is glossed "to cover", of course, but the accent on the k makes a difference.

An interesting side-note is that "eye of the needle" in German, Nadelöhr, is closer to Ohr "ear".

And even more interestingly, Sanskrit aksi "eye" (yes, from the same root) also means two, so my numerology isn't that far off (unless that's a much later derivation). Conceivably, the difference between egg and eye is there, because the words are related by a kind of rhyme (like Ger eins, zwei, drei). However, whether that's really true would need a lot more evidence and numerology is ridden with bogus fantasy so finding any kind of reliable source would be quite difficult. Imaginably, most linguists stay far away.

coming up empty for derivation and phonology

This is not a detailed account. Once one starts to consider comparison within PIE, there's too little material to compare, without further ado. Terms like "wishing well" wouldn't help much to ascertain a connection between *welH and *wel, e.g., if the story of that term isn't known. Likewise, the difference between *h₃ and *h₂ isn't certain. Therefore the question can't be answered with certainty, because it's difficult to prove a negative. Even if the root would be ultimately not the same, the possibility that they had an influence on each other is considerable.

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    it would be nice if the downvoters would leave a comment, as per the guidelines. As far as I can see my answer is generally in line with the up-voted answers, except for the verdict that they have no shimmer of pre-PIE. – vectory Jan 19 '19 at 15:52

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