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FOR SOME, cooking during lockdowns was a chance to try out the kind of time-consuming, intricate food preparation that the rush of ordinary life makes impossible. Endless loaves of sourdough were produced, along with bubbling kombucha. For others, it was an experience of drudgery. Making three meals a day, especially if your diners included small children, was tedium defined—an endless loop of eggs and beans and eggs and toast and beans and toast and eggs.

Should they be understood as pairs: eggs and beans, and eggs and toast, and beans and toast, and eggs? Or, are they meant to be separate from each other: eggs, and beans, and eggs, and toast, and beans, and toast, and eggs?

I know it does not have much to do with understanding the paragraph. But this question lingered in my mind. Can anyone reading it share you thoughts?

CONTEXT: Article in The Economist, a British periodical.

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    Well, there's egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg bacon and spam; egg bacon sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam. At least in that written form you can see what the choices are by noting that they're delimited by semicolons. But we understood it and laughed back in the day without any such help. Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 18:08
  • Note how the Monty Python one slyly starts with a couple of dishes that don't include any Spam, but by the time the wife says I don't like Spam!, the implication is You can have anything you like as long as it's mostly Spam. But in your example there are only three permutations - 1: Eggs + beans, 2: Eggs + toast, 3: Eggs + (beans and toast). Implication being You can have anything you like as long as it includes Eggs. Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 18:18
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    Lack of commas only serves to emphasize the message ... that you can combine limited dishes in only so many combos before you went crazy or did so already. To force logic here when the message is already clear is to remove its poetry. Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 18:59
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    @TinfoilHat - It's usually 'beans on toast' using the ubiquitous canned baked beans. Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 20:11
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    Beans on toast is a British staple. It's ubiquitous. Eaten at any meal time. It seems to be one of those things that all Brits know & love, yet all non-Brits either don't grasp at all or couldn't even be persuaded to try. What I do find amusing is you can actually find recipes teaching you how to make it. No, it's not a tough recipe… even if you add cheese - bbcgoodfood.com/user/176572/recipe/perfect-beans-toast They're always canned, almost always Heinz, usually microwaved these days. Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 8:15

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an endless loop of eggs and beans and eggs and toast and beans and toast and eggs.

= an endless series of meals that were composed of some combination of eggs, beans, and toast.

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Without further punctuation, it makes the most sense to see all the conjuncts as single words, rather than trying to pair them together.

This usage of repeated, redundant conjunctions is known as polysyndeton (see Wikipedia). In this case, it serves to reinforce the implication that the conjuncts are ordered in time: i.e. he had eggs, then later he had beans, then later he had eggs again, etc.

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  • This is probably right, but for some reason I initially parsed it as "(eggs and beans) and (eggs and toast) and (beans and toast and eggs)"
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 20:24

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