"It's Gone All Pear-Shaped!"

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Tue Jun 4 17:41:18 UTC 2002

> Someone asked on a newsgroup about the origin of the phrase "gone all
> pear-shaped":

I had a go at answering a question about this about a year ago (see
<http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-pea2.htm>). There have been
many suggestions for a source in various things that are literally
pear-shaped, though none convincingly explain how the expression
changed from being literal to figurative. It seems to date from the

A common explanation, the one accepted by Oxford Dictionaries, is
that it originated in Royal Air Force slang. However, nobody there
or anywhere else seems to know why. Some say that it may have been
applied to the efforts of pilots to do aerobatics, such as loops.
It is notoriously difficult (I am told) to get manoeuvres like this
even roughly circular, and instructors would describe the resulting
distorted route of the aircraft as 'pear-shaped'.

I'm not at all sure I even begin to believe this story!

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at worldwidewords.org>
Web: <http://www.worldwidewords.org/>

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