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Pomological Watercolor POM00006921.jpg

A European pear, also known as the common pear.

Pear-shaped is a metaphorical term with several meanings, all in reference to the shape of a (European) pear, i.e. tapering towards the top.

Body shape[edit]

The comparison is more or less literal when the term is applied to people, where it means narrow at the shoulders and wide at the hips, a use that goes back to at least 1815,[1] and one that can have either positive connotations (as in Venus figurines) or negative, depending upon the context.


In the 20th century, another, more abstract use of the term evolved. When said of someone's voice, "pear-shaped" means rich and sonorous.[1] The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates this use to 1925.


The third meaning is mostly limited to the United Kingdom,[1] also Ireland, South Africa and Australasia.[citation needed] It describes a situation that has gone awry, perhaps horribly so. A failed bank robbery, for example, could be said to have "gone pear-shaped". The origin for this use of the term is in dispute. The OED cites its origin as within the Royal Air Force[1] as a cleaned-up alternative version of its phrase "tits up" meaning completely broken or dead; as of 2018 the earliest citation is a quote in the 1983 book Air War South Atlantic.[2]



  1. ^ a b c d "pear-shaped". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ Jeffrey L. Ethell, Alfred Price (1983). Air War South Atlantic. Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0-283-99035-X.