intruder - gooseberry

Thomas Tompion

Senior Member
English - England
I have reason to think that many English speakers are familiar with the word gooseberry to indicate a person, often a single rather gauche person, who tags along to a group, or a couple, often in a slightly intrusive, inhibiting way. What verb is used normally with it?

To play gooseberry?
To be the gooseberry?

I'd also be interested to know of any ideas how the expression originated.
 
  • uptown

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I have reason to think that many English speakers are familiar with the word gooseberry to indicate a person, often a single rather gauche person, who tags along to a group, or a couple, often in a slightly intrusive, inhibiting way. What verb is used normally with it?

    To play gooseberry?
    To be the gooseberry?

    I'd also be interested to know of any ideas how the expression originated.
    Hmm... This isn't prevalent in current AE usage (though it may be in Canada).
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I think it would be play gooseberry out of my particular gob, TT.

    My dictionary of slang gives this for etymology (by the way, the entry heading is gooseberry/gooseberry-picker ~ never heard that second version):
    [? gooseberry-fool or their excuse for following the couple round a garden: "I'm just picking gooseberries"]

    The same dictionary has headings for both do gooseberry and play gooseberry, both mid-late 19thC, identical definition
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    This isn't surprising, as the gooseberry is not as known in the USA as it is in some other countries.
    The Chinese gooseberry is quite well known in the USA. However, its name has been forgotten because of the now-more-common moniker applied to it by the New Zealand Chinese-gooseberry-growers:
    "Kiwi fruit".

    That being said, "gooseberry" is still not used as a slang term in the US.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    AE speakers don't know gooseberries? Amazing. I've lived all over the eastern US and in the Mid-west, and there were always gooseberry bushes to be found, especially after dark when the fruit was ripe. Thomas's post is my first contact with the "third wheel" meaning. (Random House: Definition: a third person joining a couple in a social context, esp. one who is in the way.)
     

    Ecossaise

    Senior Member
    English
    Play gooseberry used to be a very common idiom for being the unwanted person in a threesome - I still hear it being said.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I've lived all over the eastern US and in the Mid-west, and there were always gooseberry bushes to be found, especially after dark when the fruit was ripe.
    Not sure I understand this reference... Does it have anything to do with the fact that babies (when not brought by storks) are found under gooseberry bushes?
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Not sure I understand this reference... Does it have anything to do with the fact that babies (when not brought by storks) are found under gooseberry bushes?
    Bibliolept and GWB seem convinced that gooseberries (edible fruit) are not well known in the U.S. My reply was an attempt at a polite "Horsefeathers!". It's only the unwelcome escort
    gooseberry that's not well known in AE.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    ETYMOLOGY. I've got this annoying faint memory blipping in my brain: Is the gooseberry sometimes referred to as 'the useless fruit'? Or is that just me?

    Maybe (I'm thinking) it has to do with the fact that gooseberries are so very distasteful to some folk ~ they seem to be a love 'em or hate 'em thing ~ that their presence at a tea-party would always be considered unwelcome. Just a theory.

    If anyone's remotely interested, here are a lot of people who do know what to do with them, and a lot more people who've never even come across one:
    http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/07/all-your-questions-are-belong-to-us/
     

    Ecossaise

    Senior Member
    English
    Here is one suggestion that is possible:

    In the old days Old Gooseberry was one of the many euphemisms for the Devil,

    and who wants the Devil along on a date?
     

    Esca

    Senior Member
    ATX
    USA - English
    I'm familiar with the phrase from reading turn-of-the-century American books, but I've never heard anyone say it in real life.
    If I were applying it, I would tend toward "to be a gooseberry," but I would be afraid nobody would understand what I meant!
     

    michelhays

    New Member
    USA English
    Yes, though current American slang is "being the third wheel." I doubt this phrase is in current usage in the USA; the only place I remember seeing "Being Gooseberry" was in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books, written just after the turn of the last century as well as the Louisa May Alcott Little Women series written about fourty years before. (as in "I don't want to be gooseberry.")

    Gooseberries as a fruit are readily available at farmer's markets and are easy to plant and grow in North America, but are considered old-fashioned (I found this thread because I just made gooseberry jam and thought of this antique etymology)
     
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