Fruity slang

There’s a lot of fruit in our lingo — some of it friendly, some of it offensive, and some just downright vulgar. Here are some of the ways our tongues get fruity in daily conversation.*



Peach: a good person, a “good egg”.  “Oh, yeah. She’s a peach, that Kaylie.” — Digital Spy. Meaning “attractive woman” is attested from 1754; that of “good person” is from 1904.



Rhubarb: nonsense or the sound of background noise (British-English); a heated dispute on the sports field (North American). The word has been used informally by the British in a theatrical context since the 1930s to describe the impression of indistinct background conversation, with the word rhubarb often uttered repeatedly by stage actors to give the impression of hubbub or conversation. (This usage is attested from 1934). Similarly, in North America, early radio actors whispered “rhubarb, rhubarb” to imitate the noise of a raucous crowd, and baseball radio commentators are said to have adopted the word to describe a commotion on the field. According to “the sportswriter Garry Schumacher may have coined the term in 1938. Schumacher claimed to like the term because “it suggested an untidy mess, a disheveled tangle of loose ends like the fibers of stewed rhubarb.” Schumacher claimed to have used it in the press box of a Dodgers-Reds game and [Red] Barber overheard and subsequently used it on the radio.”



Pear: (To go) pear-shaped (Brit-English): to go awry, to go wrong or to fail. Unknown origin: various theories include RAF pilots in the 1940s doing aerial maneuvers that were meant to be circular but ended up pear-shaped;  ship construction in the 1950s using hot rivets, which — if allowed to cool — assumed a pear shape and became unusable; the aging human body sending its body fat downwards to assume a pear shape; and sausage-shaped observation balloons in World War I that failed to inflate correctly and became pear-shaped.

“I said ‘well look, this is what happened to me back in the 90s when it all went pear-shaped, and this is what I should have done and didn’t do and this is what I’ve learnt from the situation’.” — Chris Evans, quoted on



Apricot: Slang for the medulla oblongata, the part of the brain sometimes used as a target by snipers. In plural form, it means testicles.



Bananas: crazy, mad, nuts. The “crazy” meaning was first attested in 1968; earlier (1935) it was noted as an underworld slang term for “sexually perverted.”

“[Alan] Blumberg is nice guy, except that he’s bananas. Or at least his plan for post-Sandy hazard mitigation is.” — Star Ledger

See English Stack Exchange for a discussion about where “bananas” came from.



Grape parfait: Drugs slang for LSD. (Who knew? The Daily Telegraph did …)



Grapevine: a rumor; a secret or unconventional method of spreading information. Dating back to 1863, it’s from the use of the grapevine telegraph as a “secret source of information and rumor” in the American Civil War; in reference to Southerners under northern occupation but also in reference to black communities and runaway slaves.



Prune: a dull, uninteresting or foolish person; an unpleasant or disagreeable person.  Slang meaning is from 1895. “He won’t last long. He’s a prune.” — a tweet from 2013


Green gooseberries

Gooseberry: to be a gooseberry is to be the third person on a date. (From Best of British / It was used as slang for a fool, from 1719, perhaps an extended form of goose in this sense, or a play on gooseberry fool in the cookery sense. Gooseberry also meant “a chaperone” (1837) and “a marvelous tale.” Old Gooseberry for “the Devil” is recorded from 1796. In euphemistic explanations of reproduction to children, babies sometimes were said to be found under a gooseberry bush.

“Leggy pop tart Taylor Swift and current boyfriend Scots-born DJ Calvin Harris, 31, attracted a third wheel during a lunch date at New York’s Spotted Pig this week. … Ed [Sheeran] was only too happy to play gooseberry to the pair, despite reportedly having dated former country and western singer Swift, 25, two years ago.” — Daily Mail



Plum: a highly desirable attainment, accomplishment, or acquisition, typically a job. Meaning “something desirable” is first recorded in 1780, probably in reference to the sugar-rich bits of a plum pudding, etc.

“At the same time, it was a radical break — leaving a plum job at a major daily newspaper (this one, in fact), letting go of the income, the status, the sense of identity.” — Joan Anderman in the Boston Globe




Cherry: maidenhead, virginity. Dates from 1889. In the U.S. it’s vulgar slang, from the fruit’s supposed resemblance to the hymen, but perhaps also from the long-time use of cherries as a symbol of the fleeting quality of life’s pleasures.



Fruitcake: eccentric or insane person. First attested in 1952.

Fruitcakes — of the colorful edible kind — have been in existence since the Middle Ages, but it is unclear when the term started being used disparagingly, especially in the U.S., as a slur for a ‘crazy person’. Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang traces uses of fruitcake meaning an eccentric (crazy) person to 1910s. It is derived from the expression “nutty as a fruitcake”, which was first recorded in 1935, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. By the 1930s both fruit and fruitcake terms are seen as not only negative but also to mean male homosexual. (Wikipedia)

“You need to get me back there, I’ll make you famous,” [John] Riggins said, in [Russ] Gibbs’s version. “And I looked across the table, and I went Oh. My. Gosh. Nobody would say that to their coach. This guy, he’s a fruitcake. I said, I’m gonna get stuck coaching a fruitcake.” — Washington Post



Fruit/Fruityeccentric or insane; erotically stimulating; salacious (mainly British); homosexual (mainly North American).

Meaning “odd person, eccentric” is from 1910; that of “male homosexual” is from 1935, underworld slang. The term is also noted in 1931 as tramp slang for “a girl or woman willing to oblige,” probably from the fact of being “easy picking.”


* etymologies and histories courtesy Online Etymology Dictionary





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