Go pear-shaped

Go pear-shaped is primarily a British idiom. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner and English speaker. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as blow off steam, once in a blue moon, let the cat out of the bag, spill the beans, face the music, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, bite the bullet, hit the nail on the head, piece of cake, dime a dozen, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker.  We will examine the definition of the term go pear-shaped, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To go pear-shaped means to go wrong, to fail miserably, to go awry in a terrible fashion. To go pear-shaped may describe a situation in which finances suffer a sudden and catastrophic reversal, or a personal relationship takes a sudden and calamitous turn. The origin of the expression to go pear-shaped is in dispute. Some believe that the idiomatic phrase came into use in the 1980s, but others trace the phrase to the 1940s. They believe that the term originated with the Royal Air Force to describe pilots’ poor executions of loops in the air, ending up with pear shapes rather than a round shapes. Primarily a British phrase for many years, the idiom to go pear-shaped is being used more and more in North America, especially when describing economic or business downturns. Related phrases are goes pear-shaped, gone pear-shaped, going pear-shaped. Note that pear-shaped is properly rendered with a hyphen.


Above all, those who would succeed Theresa May might note that they will, if things go pear-shaped, need to rely on their friends to rescue them.  (The Independent)

According to a source close to the couple, things had turned ‘pear shaped’ yet were allegedly working towards reconciling. (The Daily Mail)

Topshop flourished in the recession, after all, so why, in a period of relative prosperity, have things gone pear-shaped? (The Irish Times)

“I feel like I held it together pretty well in the middle of the round when things could have all gone pear-shaped,” Law said. (The Virginian-Pilot)

Leave a Comment