Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Wed Sep 4 08:40:18 UTC 2002

> Michael Quinion
> thinks it might come from faulty loops by the Royal Air Force.

To be strictly accurate, in that piece I cite the current Oxford
Dictionaries' view (which is, for example, in NODE) that "pear-
shaped" derives from RAF slang. The extension of that to the story
about pilots' misshapen loops comes from another source, and - as I
say in the piece - I am sceptical about it, because I've looked for
evidence and not found any.

> A listener to my program says that it was used in the UK at least
> by the fifties, when red-hot rivets were thrown up to the riveters
> for inserting into ships' plates. If the rivets cooled they would
> not pass through the holes, and bulged when hit with a hammer, so
> becoming pear-shaped. This is the earliest date that we have been
> able to determine with some confidence.

That conflicts with Oxford's RAF origin so, unless that can be shown
to be wrong, perhaps we should treat the red-hot rivet explanation
with some caution unless firm evidence emerges.

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at>
Web: <>

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