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Someone goes into a grocery store, and says he wants to buy an egg. Immediately, as if he just changed his mind, asks for 9 further eggs.

The conversation can go like this:

I would like an egg, please... you know what, give me nine more.

The grocer is a little bit baffled, but gives him the ten eggs.

The question: what was the reason why the buyer used this weird manner of acquiring ten eggs?

  • This is not a classical lateral thinking puzzle, so there are no secret agent code words, alternate realities or epic plotlines.

  • This situation not only can happen, but I know someone who did buy eggs like this, and I've heard at least one other story of this happening.

Slight spoiler:

This puzzle might be unfair for those who don't know the cultural background. It is solvable even if you don't, so you can arrive to the solution and find it fairly plausible even without knowing the specific cultural background / specific location where it happened, but if you know it, the answer will be very obvious.

Somewhat stronger spoilers:

1.

I quoted what he might be saying instead of leaving you just with the first paragraph, which described the same scene. However, the use of the words the buyer said might help you a lot.

2.

The conversation is not taking place in English. You can come to a solution without identifying (or knowing anything at all about) the specific language and without knowing any language at all besides English, but knowing it would make the whole story a lot more funny and the answer a lot more obvious.

Final spoiler

The guy who originally told me this story, did, during an earlier shopping, try to buy a number of eggs directly ("I would like x eggs, please") and got himself embarrassed. After everyone around laughed, next time around he resorted to something different.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does this have anything to do with a lack of base 10 in a specific language, or some language which conforms to strict rules of how to use numbers in sentences? $\endgroup$ – Daedric Apr 5 '16 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe because neuf (9) and oeuf (egg) sound similar in french? $\endgroup$ – Trenin Apr 5 '16 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ The Neuf/Oeuf thing in French seems relevant. $\endgroup$ – user20860 Apr 5 '16 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ Can one really buy loose eggs of arbitrary quantity, and asks a clerk for them? How are they carried out? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 6 '16 at 1:51
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    $\begingroup$ He wants one egg and nine moors. He's an undercover real estate tycoon and this allows him to buy moors (from grocers who are secretly of the brotherhood) in bulk without tipping off civilian grocers as to what he's actually doing. If the grocer gives him ten eggs, he will just resign himself to make an omelette for breakfast tomorrow and search for a new contact. $\endgroup$ – Devsman Apr 6 '16 at 12:24

11 Answers 11

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Is it because

the buyer doesn't know the plural for 'egg' in that language, but knows his numbers and knows 'egg' singular?

Edited by the OP to make it more complete

Indeed, in any language with complicated rules for forming plurals this would be a plausible scenario. However, the Romanian language makes this much funnier. Almost all nouns have the same few very simple rules to build plurals, but "egg" is a rare exception. If you try to use the same logic almost all nouns use, you would end up with "sheep". So, as a non-native speaker it can be very easy to accidentally order sheep instead of eggs. And as the word for egg is solely made up by vowels, and plurals usually would add another vowel to the end, it makes figuring out the plural without saying something very funny instead, quite interesting for a non-native speaker.

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  • $\begingroup$ I feel like this is the same answer that Dragomok gave, recently. $\endgroup$ – Khale_Kitha Apr 5 '16 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's different because I'm saying the word does exist, but that the person is incorrect about it. This is why they were able to use it in the final spoiler, but were laughed at. $\endgroup$ – Aethon Apr 5 '16 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I see what you're saying, then. Okay :) $\endgroup$ – Khale_Kitha Apr 5 '16 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ This seems like a variant on the old "send me a mongoose and then send me another." $\endgroup$ – Joshua Taylor Apr 6 '16 at 21:14
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This reminds me of a classic Russian joke about the genitive plural. Paraphrased from here; you need to know that the genitive plural is used when referring to five or more of something, and is highly irregular; the dual, used when referring to two to four of something, is much less troublesome:

A Soviet factory needs to requisition five fireplace pokers (singular kocherga). The correct forms are acquired, but as they are being filled out, a debate arises: what is the genitive plural of kocherga? Is it Kocherg? Kocherieg? Kochergov?... One thing is clear: a form with the wrong genitive plural of kocherga will bring disaster from the typically pedantic bureaucrats. Finally, an old janitor overhears the commotion, and tells them to send in a request for "4 kochergi and one extra," and the reply will tell them the correct word to use next time. Alas! When the reply arrives, it reads "here are your 4 kochergi and one extra."

So my guess at the solution is

the plural form of the word "egg" is unknown to the buyer, and they were mocked previously for guessing wrong, so they are avoiding it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would have accepted this for the extra context, but Vicky was faster, so I accepted that instead. I hope it's not against protocol to edit the context into the answer, and as I lack the rep, it needs time for a moderator to accept the edit. $\endgroup$ – vsz Apr 5 '16 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ Related: a popular joke in Australia. $\endgroup$ – Peregrine Rook Apr 5 '16 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose you mean the janitor "tells them to send in a request for "1 kocherga and 4 extra," and the reply says "here are your 5 kochergi"? $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Apr 6 '16 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ So what is the correct genitive plural for kocherga? $\endgroup$ – JAB Apr 6 '16 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ @zwol Or the bureaucrats do know the genitive plural, but being bureaucrats, are careful to phrase the response the same way it was requested. Couldn't have them getting something other than what they requested. $\endgroup$ – Simon Apr 6 '16 at 22:30
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Hm, in a comment to the first answer you say

+1 A good start, I started to add further hints in spoilers. However, this particular story also works if he wanted to buy 20 eggs, and asked for one, then for an additional 19.

This appears to confirm the first answer I came up with, namely

the buyer and the grocer speak a language that doesn't have a plural form for nouns, like Japanese. Now, I'm completely ignorant of grocery-shopping-related language conventions in Japanese, but I'd hazard a completely uneducated guess that - what with word shortening being pervasive in that language - some products have a standard number when sold in retail, like eggs being sold in batches of ten and as such "I would like ten units of egg" is shortened to "I would like egg". The reason for correcting implicit number to explicit number might be motivated by personality, like, say, having inner compulsion to be as precise as possible, being shy or having your head in the clouds, or a combination of all three.

Hopefully it's not as much of a stretch as it now looks in the hindsight.

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    $\begingroup$ Although this is not the solution, so far this is the closest to it. $\endgroup$ – vsz Apr 5 '16 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I find it funny to hear, "one leek, one carrot, ... one egg" when a restaurant is ordering bulk quantities. The squ of these examples might actually be 50 pounds, 10 bunches, and 12 dozen respectively. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 6 '16 at 1:48
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This wouldn't be an issue in the United States, but you've dropped so many hints about other languages and cultures that I thought I'd take a shot:

The egg cartons are stored somewhere that the customer cannot access, and so he needs to ask to have one handed over the counter (like the "deli" counter in US grocery stores).  The customer asks for one egg to force the grocer to open a carton, allowing the customer to inspect the contents visually.

P.S. Also, in the US, eggs are sold in cartons of twelve, but you say that's irrelevant to the puzzle.

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    $\begingroup$ He corrected himself immediately. (I carefully weighted every single word in my puzzle. I failed to think about the number being considered unlucky in some cultures, but the text of the puzzle was very carefully constructed) $\endgroup$ – vsz Apr 5 '16 at 17:52
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Speculation:

The person wants ten eggs, but doesn't want to say the word "ten" because it signifies bad luck -- Much like the Chinese avoidance of the number 4.

And some research to back it up:

Number 10 is rarely used in Chinese culture to symbolize anything because 10 is considered a "full" number. Chinese culture value moderation (中庸之道), meaning too much can be just as bad as not enough. We also believe cycle of life, whatever goes up will go down. If you reach the peak, you will only decline. Number 10 is a peak number, so reaching 10 is not a good thing, it is the best you can get and the beginning of your downfall. Quora Link

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 A good start, I started to add further hints in spoilers. However, this particular story also works if he wanted to buy 20 eggs, and asked for one, then for an additional 19. $\endgroup$ – vsz Apr 5 '16 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ Would he ask for 15 eggs in the same way? $\endgroup$ – Chris Cudmore Apr 5 '16 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, he would. The number is unimportant. My mistake for not thinking on the Chinese 10, this is why I upvoted your answer. Is this custom really that strong in China (or parts thereof) that people avoid saying it even if buying 10 of something? Or they will just buy 9 or 11 instead? Or it's not avoided when buying, but avoided when numbering things, like in the West there are people who have no problem paying or getting $13 but would be uncomfortable in a room numbered 13? $\endgroup$ – vsz Apr 5 '16 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ I have no idea. Check my edit history. I wasn't thinking specifically of Chinese, but [Some Culture] where ten is unlucky. I used the Chinese example of 4, which I know to be a "Bad Number" for real estate agents selling to Chinese people. I found the information on 10 after the fact by googling "Unlucky number 10" $\endgroup$ – Chris Cudmore Apr 5 '16 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ I've lived in China for a number of years and never heard of 10 being unlucky. Not saying it isn't so, but while I know that some people avoid 4 (because it sounds like death), I've never heard of avoiding 10. I don't think anyone would have a problem with buying 10 of something. On the other hand, the word for "is" is almost identical to "ten," and without context, they're hard to differentiate, especially for a non-native speaker. Of course, that's not very relevant since in this case there would be context. $\endgroup$ – Nateowami Apr 6 '16 at 11:42
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The buyer is not a native speaker of the language and either doesn't know, is unsure of, or finds embarrassment the correct word for "eggs".

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    $\begingroup$ This appears to be equivalent to the accepted answer, and it was submitted only 39 seconds later, so it's probably not a copy. $\endgroup$ – Peregrine Rook Apr 5 '16 at 23:15
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The buyer has limited knowledge of the local language and doesn't remember the word for ten, but he knows how to say nine.

A similar situation happened to me once in Portugal when I tried to order thirteen beers. After realizing I had said three instead of thirteen, I just asked for ten more.

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  • $\begingroup$ One of the comments on the original post contradicts it: "he might do the same with any number. The next time he might buy a different number of eggs and still use the 1 + x way" . Also, the last hint (he embarrassed himself the previous time) might speak against it. Still, an even closer match than Dragomok's. If you notice that, besides me mentioning several times that the number is unimportant, and it can vary from occasion to occasion, what is missing from the text he said, you will have the solution. $\endgroup$ – vsz Apr 5 '16 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ @vsz: I don't understand how you justify calling this "an even closer match than Dragomok's [answer]."  I believe that they are equally close. $\endgroup$ – Peregrine Rook Apr 5 '16 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ @PeregrineRook : because it's not about a word not existing, but about the buyer not remembering. $\endgroup$ – vsz Apr 6 '16 at 4:09
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Coming from Germany

where eggs are sold in packs of 10

my answer is: The buyer really only needs one egg, but as soon as the seller hands it over to him (extracting it from a pack of ten), he thinks of ways how to get it home and instantly thinks buying the whole 10-pack is a way better idea, so he buys 9 more.

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Ok, here is my guess. Did the conversation take place in French? Because in French an egg is un oeuf (pronounced together as unnneuuff) and nine is neuf, which sounds identical. So he would tried to say something like "...[give me] plus d'une oeuf" which is give more than one or another (perhaps his French is poor) and it therefore sounded like "...[give me] plus de neuf" which is give me 9 more? Is that it?

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I know it's not the answer you are looking for, but there is an equally valid answer.

The buyer has a certain purpose for asking for an egg, for example he wants to thicken the soup he's going to start when he returns home. Upon mentioning "egg", he remembers he wanted to bake a genoise for his friends two days from now, and impulsively decides to buy the eggs needed for it. So he simply says "and give me nine more".

Before you start grasping for reasons why this is unlikely to ever happen, I must say it happens to me with some regularity (although it doesn't have to be a genoise every time, that was an example which takes exactly 9 eggs).

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree, seems plausible. It contradicts most of the hints, but not the main part. $\endgroup$ – vsz Apr 6 '16 at 13:56
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I thought it might have to do with wanting to inspect the egg first. Perhaps they want a brown egg or something, and as soon as they see it they want to entire carton.

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