... without breaking a few eggs.
Stock Phrase that means that in order to achieve something, it is inevitable and necessary that something should be destroyed or sacrificed. It's used as a response whenever someone's confronted about major damage or the like, and is frequently used by those on the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism. Villains in particular, especially Well Intentioned Extremists who believe that Utopia Justifies the Means, are fond of using the line, as it perfectly underscores their disregard for the lives they are destroying or ruining for the sake of their Evil Plan.
The phrase originated with Count Pahlen, one of the conspirators in the coup of 1801 that resulted in the death of Czar Paul I. (see below in Real Life). It was continued by Egyptian historian Charles P. Issawi: "but it is amazing how many eggs one can break without making a decent omelette".
The people who use this phrase usually don't think they will be the proverbial eggs.
- Nina Hopkins says this at one point in the Black Butler manga in chapter 37.
- In Larry Gonick's The Cartoon History of the Universe, this line is "You can't make a country without breaking a few eggheads," spoken by the Chinese Communists in an aside about how Qin Shi Huangdi (reviled in history as an evil, evil man) is a role model for the current government.
- Invoked by Hal Jordan as Parallax in Zero Hour: Crisis in Time! to justify his erasing all of existence to create a new and better universe.
- Tintin is unimpressed when a Corrupt Corporate Executive uses this argument for starting a War for Fun and Profit. Who cares if the oil reserves they want to exploit are actually in a neigbouring country?
- Young Avengers has a memorable allusive variant from an accusing ghost/guilty conscience:
Ghost Kid Loki: You can't make a Hamlet without breaking a few eggs.
Loki: That pun makes me glad I killed you.
Ghost Kid Loki: (whispering) No. It doesn't.
- In Batman (1989), it is revealed that The Joker "improved" the looks of his girlfriend Alicia. After he tells Vicki Vale that Alicia threw herself out a window, this line is used, implying that Joker may have killed her himself to free himself for Vicki:
Joker: But...you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs. [breaks Alicia's mask]
- In Clue, regarding the possibility that by splitting up into pairs to search for the murderer, one of the characters could wind up dead after a couple of house staff members have already been killed:
Colonel Mustard: This is war, Peacock! You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs; every cook will tell you that.
Mrs. Peacock: But look what happened to the cook!
- In Fight Club, this was Tyler's response to the Narrator informing him of Bob's death.
Johnny: You can't make an omelette without cracking a few eggs. And humanity is just a cracked egg. And the omelette stinks.
- From Avengers: Age of Ultron, when the Avengers try to talk Ultron down.
Thor: Nobody has to break anything.
Ultron: Clearly you've never made an omelette.
Tony: He beat me by one second.
- Referenced in Captain America: Civil War: Tony Stark tells an audience of college students that he would provide all of them with research grants, and tells them, "Go break some eggs."
- Falling Free: Van Atta uses this to justify killing some of the quaddies, to Dr. Yei's irritation:
Van Atta: The quaddies are—ah, have made themselves expendable by turning criminal. It's no different than shooting a thief fleeing from any other kind of robbery or break-in. Besides, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.
Yei: I've been wondering when you were going to say that. I should have put a side bet on it—run a pool—
- In the StarCraft novelization Liberty's Crusade, Arcturus Mengsk quotes this as part of his justification for setting off psi-emitters on Tarsonis's surface, dooming the entire planet to the zerg. Nobody seems to believe him. (Which is why he promptly covers the whole thing up, claiming it was a massive coincidence.)
- Taken literally in The Atrocity Archive when Bob's flatmates Pinky and Brain try to prove that you can in fact do it, provided you inject the egg with a ferrous solution then put it in a rotating magnetic field. It doesn't quite work, but it proves a Chekhov's Lecture, eventually leading Bob to the solution to how to disarm a tactical nuke.
- Variant in Ciaphas Cain. An insane rogue Inquisitor quotes "The path of righteousness is a stony one" to justify abandoning hundreds of people to die, despite the fact that they had altruistically helped him. Cain mentally notes that he's forgotten the rest of the quote. Amberly explains the full quote to be "The path of righteousness is a stony one, made smoother by concern for others."
- Said word by word by Big Bad of Safehold, Zhaspar Clyntahn, more than once. Some characters speculate that he's merely saying this to justify his megalomania and increasing hold over the Church, but others fear that he started to veer in the territory of Believing Their Own Lies.
- In Goldfinger, the mobster Billy Ring says this to Bond, when they see that the entire population around Fort Knox have been killed dead in their tracks by the poison Goldfinger introduced into the water supply. Or so they think.
- In Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, the protagonist reacts with anger when his own son uses the phrase to defend the fascist reigme that came to power in America.
"If I ever hear that 'can't make an omelet' phrase again, I'll start doing a little murder myself! It's used to justify every atrocity under every despotism, Fascist or Nazi or Communist or American labor war. Omelet! Eggs! By God, sir, men's souls and blood are not eggshells for tyrants to break!"
- Robert A. Heinlein seems to have had a particular hate for this phrase. In Double Star, the narrator quotes it and then remarks, "The sophistries of villains—bah!"
- One A Bit of Fry and Laurie sketch features two businessmen arguing about this phrase. One of them concludes, "I hardly think they'd use broken eggs in executive room service."
- The trouble starts when he suffers Blunt Metaphors Trauma and thinks his actual omelette-making skills are being maligned: okay, maybe he can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, but he's been concentrating on other things!
- According to Greg Sanders of CSI, commenting on a brain found unexpectedly intact a significant distance from its owner's smashed head, "it's hard to crack an egg without breaking the yolk". It's not clear what Greg is worst at — remembering proverbs, making culinary analogies, or cracking eggs — but no-one picks him up on it.
- Doctor Who episode "City of Death: Part 1"
Duggan: You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs.
Romana: If you made an omelette, I'd expect to find a pile of broken crockery, a cooker in flames, and an unconscious chef.
- Featured in Nathan's Patrick Stewart Speech from the first series finale of Misfits.
Nathan: Yeah, so a few of us will overdose or go mental, but Charles Darwin said, "You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs." And that's what it's all about: breaking eggs! And by eggs I do mean getting twatted on a cocktail of Class A's.
- In the episode "Under Covers":
Jenny Shepard: You're not serious. Your idea of politics usually involves some form of physical violence.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs: Well, you know what they say, Jen. Can't make an omelet unless you break a few eggs.
- Mangled by Ziva in "Knockout".
Ziva: You can't make an omelet without breaking a few legs.
Tony: You're never making me breakfast.
- In the episode "Under Covers":
- Neverwhere (1996), In Vandemaar's case, this is probably completely true.
Mr. Croup: You can't make an omelette...
Mr. Vandemaar: ...without killing a few people.
- Parks and Recreation: "If you want an omelette, you've got to break a few eggs. What's the alternative, no omelettes at all? Who wants to live in that kind of world? Maybe birds. Then all of their babies would live."
- In an episode of Space Cases where the crew all swap species with each other as part of a "walk a mile in another person's shoes" aesop, Davenport becomes a coldly logical robot, but refuses to use her newly enhanced intelligence to help get everyone back to normal, since she can run things much more efficiently this way. When Thelma (who has become human and is distressed by her newfound inability to communicate with the ship) pleads with her to reconsider, Davenport brushes her off with the omelet/eggs metaphor. Thelma's dejected response? "That's what I get for talking to an egghead."
- In an episode of Young Hercules, the villain of the episode says a Greekified version of the quote, "But you can't make a mousaka without cracking a few eggs, huh?"
- In Mech-X4, this is how the mastermind justifies his plan to end pollution and climate change by wiping out most of humanity.
Mastermind: You can't make an omelette without breaking a few necks.
Ryan:...I don't think that's the expression.
Mastermind: Oh, isn't it? Oh, well. [punch]
- Discussed in Bugs Bunny's Birthday Ball; a sign above the Chicken Coop reads "You have to break a lot of eggs to make a birthday cake!!"
- In Day of the Tentacle, one character uses the equivalent, "If you want to save the world, you got to push a few old ladies down the stairs." ...having done just that.
- If you're too evil in Baldur's Gate II, Minsc will explain that while he understands that "to make the glorious omelette of goodness, some eggs must be broken," you've gone a bit far.
- Parodied in The Simpsons Game, in which Mr. Burns plans to cut down all of Springfield Forest and reduce each tree to a single toothpick:
Burns: If you want to make an omelette... you have to wreck a few planets.
- Heavy Rain has Captain Perry saying this line to Norman Jayden when he complains of Blake's behavior.
Norman Jayden: Blake is trying to beat a confession out of Ethan Mars! You've got to do something!
Captain Perry: Which is more important, Norman? Finding little Shaun Mars or sparing that lowlife a few bruises? You can't make omelettes without breaking a few eggs.
- Comes up in Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, when Rozalin is starting to feel bad about leading Adell to his death just she can get away from him. Tink replies, "The weak will perish! Zat is the way of ze world! Princess, do you count how many eggs were cracked to make your omelettes?"
Rozalin: O-omelettes? I prefer veal and truffles for breakfast...
Tink: What you eat for breakfast is besides ze point, eh. Ze point I am tried to make is zat you must make sacrifices to survive.
- In the soundtrack for PAYDAY: The Heist, during the track "Breach of Security," the theme to the Diamond Heist mission.
Chains: You know what happens when that glass breaks?
Hoxton: The alarm goes off, we get filthy rich. Is there more to know?
Wolf: To make an omelette, you gotta break some eggs, know what I mean? [that glass breaks, the alarms go off, and the music gets filthy awesome].
- During Issue 12 of The Secret World, ever-quirky Yakuza boss Daimon Kiyota reveals that he was one of the conspirators responsible for detonating the bomb and unleashing the Filth on Tokyo - albeit with the intention of screwing over the other conspirators and a backup plan to purge the Filth from the city... so he can take it over, of course. For his part, Kiyota isn't too repentant:
Kiyota: I'm not asking for forgiveness - that's boring. You wanna party, sometimes you gotta blow out a whole lotta candles.
- The Rebel Leader in Aviary Attorney would like to change the world peacefully but brings this up, believing the old regime can't be taken down in favor of a Second Republic without bloodshed. She can be persuaded otherwise and seems happier sticking to ideals. Romulus claims this trope but it's quickly evident that he doesn't care about building a new, equal society - he's out for power.
- Alluded to in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, after Raiden pulls an I Surrender, Suckers moment on Senator Armstrong:
Armstrong: Making the mother of all omelettes here, Jack! Can't fret over every egg.
Raiden: Not when you're "purging the weak", right? What do you know about "the weak"? You weren't born poor. You've never been hungry. You don't know what it's like to fight and steal and kill just to survive...
Armstrong:: But you did survive. Through sheer force of will, following your own set of rules. With your own two hands, you took back your life!
Raiden: And now, I'll take yours.
- Disco Elysium: You can have a long discussion with your skills about building communism, which ends like this:
You: (Roll up your sleeves and start building Communism.)Rhetoric: Oh yeah! Get the firing squads and the animal wagons ready!You: Wait, what? Firing squads? You didn't say anything about those.Rhetoric: Too late to back out now. You can't make an omelet without breaking a few million eggs!
- 8-Bit Theater:
Black Mage: Er... Well, y'know. You can't make an omelette without... um... destroying a forest. Or something.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Gnome escalates the usual phrase
Gnome: Well, it's like my father always used to say. You can't make an omelette without permanently deafening someone.
- This is another gem.
Tarquin: You can't make an omelette without ruthlessly crushing dozens of eggs beneath your steel boot and then publicly disemboweling the chickens that laid them as a warning to others.
- Gnome escalates the usual phrase
- In The Last Days of FOXHOUND, Big Boss in Liquid's body says this of Null/Frank Jager/Cyborg Ninja.
- One letter to Ask Dr Eldritch was from a shady government operative who very clinically explained how they had murdered some of their agents ("transitioned to a metabolically inert state") in order to create spectral superspies, and now needed expert advice on how to properly control them, as the ghosts seemed to have lost much motivation and commitment for some reason. Dr Eldritch replied by really tearing into the guy and calling him out on the act, and made a point that the people who say the "you can't make an omelette" line are never the ones who expect to be the eggs.
- Erfworld has one in the Summer Updates between books 1 and 2:
Stanley: You did break the mountain. But hey, like they say, you can't make an omelette without... you know.
Parson: Blowing up a city full of people.
- Red vs. Blue:
Andy: You can't make an omelette without blowing up a few eggs!
- Vision of Escaflowne Abridged:
- Like with a lot of abridged series people completely miss the point
Dornkirk: [to heroes] Look, you can't bake a cake without breaking a few eggs.
Hitomi: Yes, you can. My grandma used to make me vegan cake all the time.
Dornkirk: You can? Hold on a second.
Dornkirk: [to Falken] Falken! Did you know you can bake a cake without breaking any eggs?
Folken: Yes, my lord, yes you can.
Dornkirk: Do you think that means we should stop killing people?
Folken: No my lord, I think you just need a better metaphor.
- Unfortunately, Dornkirk is a huge Cloud Cuckoo Lander and Authority in Name Only - so the whole thing inevitably descends into utter stupidity.
Dornkirk: You can't test cosmetics without killing a few puppies.
Hitomi: Yes, you can!
Folken: Omelette, my lord.
Dornkirk: Right. Folken says you can't make an omelette without killing a few puppies.
Hitomi: That's just stupid.
Dornkirk: Oi! I will not stand here and listen to you call Folken stupid!
- Like with a lot of abridged series people completely miss the point
- Darkwing Duck: In "Something Fishy", Neptunia namedrops the trope when Launchpad tries to point out that she's hurting a lot of people by flooding St. Canard. Launchpad then tells her that she's hurting a lot of good people, including some who are actually trying to stop the pollution. This seems to get her attention.
- Spiral Zone episode "Oversight":
Dirk Courage: Eventually, we had to stop Overlord another way - but blowing the bridge and the tunnel were reasonable steps to take at the time.
Ned Tucker: You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, sir!
- Justice League Unlimited, "Patriot Act".
Stargirl: Haven't you ever heard of "innocent bystanders"?
General Wade Eiling: Ever hear of "acceptable losses"? You can't make a omelette without breaking a few eggs.
- Men in Black: The Series:
Alpha: [observing the destroyed MIB headquarters] Ah, the old clubhouse. Such a shame, so many fond memories... But as we say on Earth, one can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
- In the Grand Finale, "The Endgame Syndrome":
Vangus: Omelette... Eggs... Good one!
- This becomes an Ironic Echo later when Vangus decides to just blow Earth to bits, as it's proving too much hassle to conquer. Alpha protests that this wouldn't leave him anything to rule, but Vangus just quotes the trope back at him.
- A lighter example is done in Static Shock where Richie uses this line to convince Virgil into breaking into the school to use the microscopes inside to study a part of the Mega Microbe monster terrorizing the week.
- In Batman: Assault on Arkham, Batman confronts Amanda Waller for her reckless use of Task Force X to have the Riddler killed, which resulted in a massive breakout and riot among the inmates. Waller responds with the omelette saying, only for Batman to retort that Waller's "such a messy cook" that everything went horribly wrong.
- The phrase originates with Peter Ludwig Count Pahlen (1746-1826), military governor of St. Petersburg and one of the officers conspiring to depose Czar Paul I. on 23 March 1801. Pahlen, speaking in French, said: "Quand on veut faire des omelettes, il faut casser des oeufs" (When you want to make omelettes, you have to break eggs), and the coup did result in the "accidental" death of the Czar. In a speech to a delegation from Strasbourg on 21 December 1890, Otto von Bismarck gave it the form: "On ne peut pas faire une omelette sans casser des oeufs" (You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs).
- The phrase was infamously employed by New York Times Moscow bureau chief (and Stalin apologist) Walter Duranty in a 1933 article purporting to debunk the famine in Ukraine.
- Nikolai Yezhov, head of the Soviet secret police (NKVD) pre-World War II, is credited with using the similar phrase, "When you chop wood, chips fly." Fitting as his reign over the NKVD was during the peak of the Purges, and he himself was executed as part of them.
- That phrase is sometimes continued with the comment "This can be unpleasant if you're one of the chips."
- Yezhov's wording is similar to a German saying, "Wo gehobelt wird, fallen Späne" (Where there is planing, shavings will fall).
- Economists use the phrase "creative destruction" to describe this idea. Creative destruction is when a new invention or business succeeds, it means other skills and capital goods become obsolete. This means that people have tools that they can't profitably use or have trained for jobs that are no longer done.
- This is the reason why Not in My Backyard! exists. You cannot have a (insert useful or necessary thing here) without inconveniencing someone.
- Jack Kroll in Newsweek once reviewed a production of a certain William Shakespeare play, pointing out "You can't make a Hamlet without breaking eggs."
- A popular, but likely apocryphal, story claims that someone once used this line in defense of the Soviet Union, and George Orwell replied, "Where's the omelette?"
- Being the only nation who has managed to take control billions to trillions of people, mainland China is this as they view their citizens as expendable and will not hesitate to trample on them for the sake of profit; such as forced demolitions (including on legal private residences) and displacing farmers from their land. Or sacrificing few thousands such as deliberately releasing floodwater at the expense of other residents living there without warning, to (on disasters) intentionally delaying rescue until a significant amount has died. During the COVID19 pandemic they also resort to inhumane measures such as sealing them inside their homes (up to including blocking it with barbed wires), forbidding them to leave their homes to even buy groceries, and violently dragging residents for forced quarantine.