go pear-shaped

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Uncertain; the following etymologies have been suggested:

  • From the image of a solid rectangle “slipping down” into a pear shape, thus “the bottom drops out”.[1]
  • From the image of a balloon or football losing its spherical shape after being punctured.[2]

Apparently the term was originally Royal Air Force slang,[3][4] but came into common use by the 1990s.



go pear-shaped (third-person singular simple present goes pear-shaped, present participle going pear-shaped, simple past went pear-shaped, past participle gone pear-shaped)

  1. (intransitive, Australia, Britain, New Zealand, Ireland, idiomatic) To go awry; to go wrong. [from 1980s]
    Synonyms: go downhill, go down the toilet, (Cockney rhyming slang) go Pete Tong, go sideways, go to pot, (vulgar) go to shit, go to the dogs, turn pear-shaped
    Antonyms: see Thesaurus:prosper
    • 1983, Jeffrey Ethell, Alfred Price, quoting Bob Iveson, “To Goose Green and Beyond, 26 May – 7 June”, in Air War: South Atlantic (The Air Combat Trilogy; 3), New York, N.Y.: Macmillan Publishing Company, →ISBN, pages 158–159:
      After the third attack run I was letting back down to low level, passing through about 100 feet on the way down, when there were two bangs very close together. The whole aircraft shook and things went "pear-shaped" very quickly after that.
    • 1991 January 7, Tim Power, quoting David Coles, “The business of survival”, in Evening Post, Reading, Berkshire: Thames Valley Newspapers, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 8, column 2:
      Now the whole world economy seems to be going pear-shaped all at once [].
    • 1993 October 16, Sally Vincent, “Lost boys”, in Peter Preston, editor, The Guardian Weekend, London: Guardian News & Media, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 8, column 1:
      Patsy dwells on this, as though on the last ordinarily weird thing she ever experienced, the last moment of sanity before it all went pear-shaped.
    • 1998, Michael Armstrong, quoting Tina Mason, “Team Building”, in Managing People: A Practical Guide for Line Managers, London: Kogan Page, published 2001, →ISBN, part 2 (Managing People – the Basic Skills), page 39:
      If you are asking people to make decisions, then it's very important that you support them when things go wrong, otherwise they'll never make one again … when things go pear-shaped, and occasionally they do, we try to treat it as a learning experience.
    • 2002 March 25, “Stay Positive”, in Mike Skinner (lyrics), Original Pirate Material, performed by The Streets:
      I hope you understand me / I ain't no preaching fucker and I ain't no do-goody-goody either / This is about when shit goes pear-shaped
    • 2008, Nicholas Bate, “What to Do if It Goes Awry”, in Have It Your Way: 52 Brilliant Ideas for Getting Everything You Want, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Infinite Ideas Company, →ISBN, page 38:
      Once you've acknowledged that things have gone pear-shaped, you need to re-take control and move on.
    • 2012, Dave Simpson, “Gary Speed – ‘Speedo’”, in The Last Champions: Leeds United and the Year that Football Changed Forever, London: Bantam Press, →ISBN, part 1 (The Rise), page 24:
      [Gordon] Strachan was an experienced Scottish international who, under Alex Ferguson, had won European honours with Aberdeen and an FA Cup with Manchester United, but his relationship with his former mentor had gone pear-shaped.
    • 2013 December 21, Malcolm Brown, “Without morality, the market economy will destroy itself”, in Alan Rusbridger, editor, The Guardian[1], London: Guardian News & Media, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 2021-11-12:
      They call for the economics syllabus to be rewritten to reflect the chasm between the confident mechanistic models they are still taught and the real economy which went pear-shaped.
    • 2017 November, Eric A. Meyer, Estelle Weyl, edited by Meg Foley, CSS: The Definitive Guide: Visual Presentation for the Web[2], 4th edition, Sebastopol, Calif.: O’Reilly Media, published 22 January 2022, →ISBN, page 697:
      There are a few cases that need to be covered, as they fall under the general umbrella of "what grids do when things go pear-shaped."

Alternative forms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



  1. ^ Jonathon Green (2005), “go pear-shaped, v.”, in Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, 2nd edition, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, →ISBN, page 630, column 1.
  2. ^ Tony Thorne (2014), “pear-shaped, adj.”, in Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, 4th edition, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, →ISBN, pages 327–328.
  3. ^ to go (also turn) pear-shaped” under “pear-shaped, adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2022; “go pear-shaped, phrase” under “pear-shaped, adj.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  4. ^ Rick Jolly; Trugg Willson (1989), “pear-shaped”, in Jackspeak: the Pusser’s Rum Guide to Royal Navy Slanguage [], Torpoint, Cornwall: Palamanando Publ., →ISBN, page 210; republished as Rick Jolly, “pear-shaped”, in Jackspeak: A Guide to British Naval Slang and Usage, London: Bloomsbury Publishers, 2018, →ISBN: “‘It all went pear-shaped..’ – the scheme collapsed or went wrong; [].”

Further reading[edit]