This is how I sometimes refer to something that has gone wrong or turned out slightly unusual. I might say "That attempt to assemble the flat-pack chest of drawers went a bit pear shaped".

I also have a tendency to refer to nights out this way. A pear shaped night could start off with a quiet drink in the pub. Getting invited to a gig, ending up walking home barefoot at 3am, not having eaten since 12:30pm. (Yes, this has actually happened to me)

Where does it come from? Well, imagine a perfect circle. Then put a pear shaped circle next to it. I think the comparison speaks for itself.

From uk.culture.language.english
(found at http://www.ucle.org/ucle9.html)

This expression is interesting because "pear-shaped" has been long acknowledged as a description for an elegant cut of diamond. This pedigree would appear to give "pear-shaped" a positive description. "Pear-shaped" can also be used to describe the voluptuous anatomies portrayed by classical artists such as Poussin, Rubens, Raphael, or Rossetti.

"It went pear-shaped" is used in modern English to signify a comedic fiasco or similar disaster. In almost every circumstance, it refers to an undertaking or project that resulted in failure, but caused no grievous harm to anyone involved. Further, it provides a gentle suggestion that the fiasco was a result of nature and beyond the control of any specific individual. It is not regarded as vulgar or offensive.

Despite its common usage, the origin of the phrase remains obscure. Some sources attest that its origins lie in ballooning, and that a pear suggests the shape of a collapsed balloon. I can't find support for this etymology at http://www.ballooning.org/ballooning/glossary.html.

Others suggest that "pear-shaped" is rooted in aircraft terminology. The story goes that certain types of aircraft engine casings might go "pear-shaped" in the event of failure. Unfortunately, there is no convincing citation to accompany this claim.

Maths experts and "Quants" can be expected to attest that "pear-shaped" refers to a so-called "normal" or "Gaussian" distribution where the extremities of the distribution have become enlarged. In such a situation, improbable events would become much more probable. This is, at the moment, the preferred origin for "It's all gone pear-shaped".

Editor's note: If you have a definitive citation for "pear-shaped", please send email to webmasters@ucle.org.

People get pear shaped. This is the mostly likely reason that "pear shaped" may mean that everything's going wrong. (Unless, of course, you think that gaining a fat bottom and chunky thighs is a cause of celebration*.)When things go pear shaped, everything sinks down. It happens, and there's little or nothing you can do about it. No cosmic StairMaster will solve the chaos.

I seriously doubt that the slang usage came from planes or balloons or pear drops**.

* though, if you are putting on weight, being pear shaped is seen to be healthier than becoming apple shaped. Less of a risk of heart disease.

** though, if your coffee smells of pear drops please don't drink it. Someone's trying to poison you. Or has spilt their nail varnish into it, at best.

If you're a BBW or BHM, you may describe yourself as "pear-shaped" if your body tends to store fat below the waist, i.e., in the hips and thighs. In contrast, an apple-shaped person stores fat around the midsection and in the arms.

In 1903, Erik Satie, an eccentric French composer, wrote 'Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire,' which in English is 'Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear'.

The rather odd title bears no obvious relationship to the sound of the music and was apparantly simply a response to Debussy's comment that Satie's work lacked form.

Nevertheless, where other compositions might specify "Play merrily and with gusto" or some other appropriate direction, the sheet music for 'Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire' specifies "Play shaped like a pear." If you're not aware that Satie is essentially joking, then you are left thinking that 'pear shaped' is an extremely strange thing to demand of music. Thus the association is formed between 'pear shaped' and things that are strange or unexpected.

I believe this is the origin of the expression, as used today to mean 'wrong' or 'peculiar'.

Pear"-shaped` (?), a.

Of the form of a pear.

 

© Webster 1913.

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