jhisaac1 said…

Um. (Raises hand.) What does “Biblically pear-shaped” mean? It sounds like a fun term, and I assume it means something has not gone well, but could I get some background on the phrase please? It appears to be a common phrase according to Google, but I couldn’t find any background. Thanks.

“Pear-shaped” is British slang for something gone wrong with ones plans. Since Iron Maggie Thatcher introduced Americans to the phrase, it has evolved into the connotation of not just wrong, but horribly so.

Its origin is fairly obscure, but most experts seem to think that aviation has something to do with it, most probably the Royal Air Force, and that it involves the shape of a failed engine casing or the shape of a failed aerial manoeuvre.

“Biblically” comes from, of course, the Bible. When it comes to catastrophes, nobody does it better than the Bible.

So. When things “go pear-shaped”, they’ve gone horribly wrong. When they go “Biblically pear-shaped”, they’ve gone horribly wrong — only worse.


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12 thoughts on “Pear-shaped”

  1. Also over here in the UK it means a womans shape in that she is wide in the hips and smaller up top.

  2. I once trained with the SAS for 6weeks. By the end of the first day, I was so exhausted I ran on remote control forthe restofthe session. However, I do remember having that expression explained to me.

    An airplane is shaped like a cross. That is to remind you to pray for the entire time it is off the ground. If the pilot should attempt to fly the plane at too low an altitude, that plane becomes shaped like a pear, to give notice that you are now food. Bugs and worms have to eat, too. 😀


  3. I always figured it was a polite way of saying that something’s gone “tits up,” like a corpse lying on its back.

  4. In a machine shop, “going pear-shaped” is a consequence of not paying sufficient attention to what you’re doing.

    A 3-jaw chuck on a lathe is self-centering. Round objects placed in there tend to stay that way. Usually, anyway…

    You can misthread a chuck jaw when reversing faces, or allow chips, floor-dry pellets or apprentice’s fingers to get in between the jaw face and the workpiece, and before you can say “Boo”, your $80 piece of Inconel bar stock has gone OOR. Out-of-round, or, slightly pear shaped.

    Sometimes it’s recoverable, sometimes not. It depends on how much metal you’re hogging off the rough stock.

    So, FWIW, that’s where I first heard the term.

  5. I always thought the name came from the shape a drop of water took, just before it seperated from whatever it was dripping from and started to fall: therefore “the moment before the thing went irrevocably towards the ground”, or such.


  6. I seem to recall my first reference to it being in a Heinlein story, but don’t recall which one (unfortunately). The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, or perhaps The Number Of The Beast.

  7. Jeez, so many theories! I always thought it was a pottery-relayed term. For ex.: “Hey, guys, look at the lovely jug I just ma… Oh, hell, it’s gone all pear-shaped!”

    No? Some form of slump-test for building materials?

    I give up.


  8. No idea about ‘pear shaped’. But I do seem to remember Pratchette using the phrase ‘wahooni shaped’ in one of his Discworld novels.

    I’ve always liked the sound of that phrase…

  9. Just re-reading this blog;

    "Pear Shaped" is one of those idioms that scholars admit is of no known origin. All kinds of possibilities are offered.

    But it seems clear to me that "Biblically Pear Shaped" is "Pear Shaped" being given the full Cecil B. DeMille treatment.

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