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.

Pomological Watercolor POM00006921.jpg
A European pear, also known as the common pear.

Body shapeEdit

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 went 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 (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Jeffrey L. Ethell, Alfred Price (1983). Air War South Atlantic. Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0-283-99035-X.