peanut / peanut gallery
A peanut is the seed of Arachis hypogaea, native to Brazil. The origin of the name is obvious, a compounding of pea + nut. Although, technically a peanut is not a nut, but actually a legume. The name appears by the beginning of the 19th century. From a letter by Washington Irving published in the Morning Chronicle on 1 December 1802:
I amused myself with eating pea-nuts.
Peanut is also a slang term for a simple or inconsequential person or for a child. From an 1864 work by Mark Twain, published in Early Tales & Sketches:
I am no peanut...I could invent some little remedies that would stir up a commotion,...if I chose to try.
Peanut gallery refers to the balcony section of a theater—presumably from hoi polloi eating peanuts in the cheap seats. From the Mountain Democrat of Placerville, California of 10 June 1876:
As a bid for applause from the political pit and peanut gallery it was a masterpiece.
The term was popularized in the 1950s by the television show Howdy Doody, in which the host, Buffalo Bob, would call the child audience the peanut gallery. In doing so, Buffalo Bob was combining two different slang traditions.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton