Derogatory food
Posted: 02 April 2018 08:55 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I was wondering idly why ‘bananas’ should be slang for ‘mad’, when most fruit metaphors are favourable (apple of someone’s eye, a peach of a whatever). ‘Nuts’ in this sense appears to be an American development of British slang for ‘keen’, and all of this seems fairly obscure, with probably no better explanation than it is what it is. Though ‘bananas’ is an odd-looking word, perhaps.

What about ham actors? The metaphor in ‘ham-fisted’ is obvious, but thespians are a bit of a mystery. The OED claims it derives from ‘hamfatter’, and one of its quotations claims it’s ‘said to be derived from an old-style negro song called “The Ham-fat Man”.’ I didn’t think I’d find anything on something only said to be derived in 1889, but the internet is all-knowing, and turned up this: http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/songster/13-de-ham-fat-man.htm. To my eye it’s an extraordinarily poor attempt at dialect even by hokey 19th-century standards, but I’m prepared to be wrong. I suppose the idea is cheapness, food flavoured with fat rather than containing chunks of meat.

Thoughts?

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Posted: 02 April 2018 10:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Not only is banana an odd-looking word, I put it to you that it’s an odd-looking thing, especially to people whose native tree fruit grow singly on the tree and are mostly round or oval, the most eccentric shape being that of the pear.

Also, bananas are bent - itself of course a slang word of dire import - and this characteristic perhaps connects them naturally with ‘round the bend’, which phrase in turn seems to have arisen from ‘take a funny turn’. In metaphor, all divergence from the straight and narrow is seen as, well, a bit screwy.

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Posted: 03 April 2018 04:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Bananas, meaning crazy, is relatively recent. Green’s Dictionary of Slang dates it only to 1957. The OED (old entry with some newer citations added) has basically the same cites. Green’s also records a 1930s sense meaning homosexual, queer. (The OED has one of these citations, bracketed, under its sense of crazy.) It seems, though, that this 1930s sense was short-lived and unrelated to the current crazy sense.

Also, bent, meaning queer or gay, dates to the same period, 1959, according to Green’s. The OED (old entry) doesn’t differentiate this sense.

Often with slang terms like this, looking for a rationale is futile. There doesn’t need to be a logical reason for such terms to exist.

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Posted: 03 April 2018 06:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I suppose so, but one can’t help think that there must be a reason why some terms appeal to enough people to catch on, while other inventive uses of language die on the lips of the speaker, or shorty after. Then again, Viz managed to get ‘hatstand’ into the popular consciousness as a term for ‘mad’, though it’s difficult to think of a less emotionally charged item of furniture.

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Posted: 03 April 2018 09:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Mere speculation here, but I wonder if it could have something to do with the association of bananas with monkeys and apes.

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Posted: 03 April 2018 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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A bit of a stretch to the 1957 date, but war time rationing caused a lot of activity trying to get the “forbidden” foods, and even though imported food like bananas were available from 1946, rationing did not end until 1954.  But why should bananas be singled out for the link to mad activity, no idea.

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Posted: 03 April 2018 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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There are other slightly more favorable food metaphors, such as:

“Cool as a cucumber”
“It’s all gravy”
“The big cheese”
“Piece of cake/Cake walk”
“Spill the beans”
“Bring home the bacon” ad infinitum.

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Posted: 03 April 2018 11:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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kurwamac - 02 April 2018 08:55 PM

I was wondering idly why ‘bananas’ should be slang for ‘mad’, when most fruit metaphors are favourable (apple of someone’s eye, a peach of a whatever).

I’d hazard a guess that there are as many derogatory fruit usages as otherwise. When things go pear-shaped they go wrong. A lemon is a car you should by no means purchase. Giving someone the raspberry is not a compliment. A fruitcake is a madman. A fig (or figo) for you is an old insult. And so forth.

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Posted: 03 April 2018 05:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Where I’m from, “she’ll be apples” means “it’ll all be okay”.

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Posted: 03 April 2018 10:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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aldiboronti - 03 April 2018 11:13 AM

I’d hazard a guess that there are as many derogatory fruit usages as otherwise. When things go pear-shaped they go wrong. A lemon is a car you should by no means purchase. Giving someone the raspberry is not a compliment. A fruitcake is a madman. A fig (or figo) for you is an old insult. And so forth.

I’m not going to start compiling lists, although that would be a plum job to have. But with your negative fruit the reasoning can generally be clearly seen. A pear is arrogantly asymmetric where many fruits aspire to roundness, or at least something more evenly shaped. Lemons, whatever their flavouring qualities, are difficult to eat on their own, and you wouldn’t want to bite into one by mistake. Blowing raspberries comes from the rhyming slang ‘raspberry tart’, and the whole fig thing comes from Roman/Italian obscenity, doesn’t it? I have a vague idea that most fruit in Italian, like the rest of the language, can have a sexual reference, but that’s another language and its genius. Given that food is what we choose to eat, you’d expect it to be a metaphor for good things, unless there was something wrong about it—rotten, unhealthy, associated with poverty, etc.—wouldn’t you?

[ Edited: 03 April 2018 10:46 PM by kurwamac ]
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Posted: 04 April 2018 02:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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aldiboronti - 03 April 2018 11:13 AM

When things go pear-shaped they go wrong.

But pear-shaped tones are good.  Or have I been misunderstanding that one all these years?

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Posted: 04 April 2018 04:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Close to Dr T’s thoughts:
The origin of “going bananas” or simply “bananas” meaning “insane” is uncertain, but it seems to have first appeared in the mid-20th century. It may well be based on “going ape,” given the legendary enthusiasm of monkeys for bananas, or it might simply employ the bright yellow “banana” as a symbol of silliness and simple-mindedness. My money is on the “go ape” theory, especially given the centrality of monkeys and apes to US popular culture in the 20th century.

http://www.word-detective.com/2015/04/go-bananas/

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Posted: 04 April 2018 01:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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It may well be based on “going ape,” given the legendary enthusiasm of monkeys for bananas, or it might simply employ the bright yellow “banana” as a symbol of silliness and simple-mindedness. My money is on the “go ape” theory,

Actually I think the expression was originally to go ape shit.

OED

apeshit adj. coarse slang crazed, infuriated, excited; mad, insane.orig. and frequently in to go ape-shit: = to go ape at sense 2c.
1955 Amer. Speech 30 117 [U.S. Air Force slang.] Go ape shit, react in an irrational manner; go into a frenzy.
1961 D. J. PLANTZ Sweeney Squadron xv. 212 If Captain Christiansen goes to base hospital, I’m riding next to this ape-shit bastard.
1976 New Society 7 Oct. 3/3 The kids go ‘ape-shit’—leaping high off the ground, as if on invisible pogo-sticks.
1991 Vanity Fair (N.Y.) Sept. 244/1 All this stuff leaked to the press, and the Japanese were ape-shit.
2006 ‘A. ANT’ Stand & Deliver ix. 213 We bumped into him in the lobby of our hotel and he went apeshit at her for being with me.

Furthermore, I don’t think bananas have anything to do with tempermental Gorillas.
Gorillas have many ways in which they communicate, both verbally and non verbally.
They can be very loud and animated when communicating with other gorillas. Adult males are very aggressive when challenged or to ward off an intruder. They will make very loud screaming sounds and at the same time they will beat their chest with their hands rapidly. This is a warning signal or as a show of dominance.

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Posted: 04 April 2018 01:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Green’s has go ape from one year earlier, 1954, but there could be a bit of censoring going on.

But Green’s also has 1915 for aped, meaning drunk, 1935 for ape meaning aggressive or dangerous, and 1942 for go ape for, meaning to be obsessed with. So it seems the shit is a later addition to the general use of things ape.

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Posted: 04 April 2018 11:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Logophile - 04 April 2018 01:36 PM

Furthermore, I don’t think bananas have anything to do with tempermental Gorillas.
Gorillas have many ways in which they communicate, both verbally and non verbally.
They can be very loud and animated when communicating with other gorillas. Adult males are very aggressive when challenged or to ward off an intruder. They will make very loud screaming sounds and at the same time they will beat their chest with their hands rapidly. This is a warning signal or as a show of dominance.

I don’t think that linguistic usage is necessarily founded on observation of actual behaviour. I doubt if many users of the expressions, then or now, could distinguish between apes and monkeys, for instance: they’re shorthand for creatures who look a bit like us but may act in a primitive/irrational (from a human perspective) manner.

This made me wonder whether our image of the banana-eating primate has any basis in reality, or derives more from fictional images and animals in captivity. The latter, apparently. https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/39714/do-apes-monkeys-open-bananas-from-the-floral-end

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