Its all gone pear-shaped, Guv’nor

What does pear-shaped mean?

I love the expression pear-shaped. It has three meanings according to the Oxford Dictionary:

  1. Shaped like a pear; tapering towards the top and rounded at the bottom. Now especially of a person or a person’s figure: wide-hipped.

  2. Of a musical or (more often) vocal tone: rich, mellow, sonorous.

  3. Colloquial to go (also turn) pear-shaped: to go badly wrong, to go awry.

Being shaped like a pear is nice enough but the idea that it is something going badly wrong is just delightful. Imagine that you are holding the perfect circle and then a bulge appears that you just can’t push back in, has both a visual and tactile truth.

Pear-shaped meaning going badly wrong

It has been very popular in British police drama series (such as The Bill). So…

It’s gone ‘orribly pear-shaped, Guv’nor

It has also been taken up in Australia.

It’s gone bl**dy pear-shaped, mate.

The British TV program Balderdash and Piffle (aired in 2007) tried unsuccessfully to find out the origin of the word. Its first proven written use is in 1983.  Balderdash and Piffle teamed the BBC up with the OED to track down the first use of words. Episode 1 of Series 1, the P-Word couldn’t take the word back as far as they thought the could.

However, one strong and very attractive theory dates it to the RAF in the 1940s. It may have come from an expression for a pilots failed attempts at doing the correct loop-the-loop. Rather than being circular a bad loop-the-loop is out of shape. So…

It’s gone rather pear-shaped, old chap.

Mainstream use

According to Wikipedia, British politician Margaret Thatcher used it when she first met Ronald Reagan. It confused the US journalists.