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Word for the Wise June 12, 2007 Broadcast Topic: Peanut gallery

A question about the phrase peanut gallery sent us scrambling back in time. First stop: the 1950s children's television program, The Howdy Doody Show, where the peanut gallery referred to the peanuts, the children of the studio audience. (来源:英语论坛 http://bbs.englishcn.com)

That modern peanut gallery was similar to the groundlings of Shakespeare's day. Hundreds of years ago, groundlings named spectators in the cheapest part of the theater (the ground level); groundlings were also considered to have ordinary or unsophisticated taste or critical judgment.

Fittingly, the edible peanut grows low along and just under the ground. And just as fitting is the idea that the non-edible peanut can refer to "a tiny or insignificant person."

But did the term groundling somehow inspire the phrase peanut gallery? Not at all. The original peanut gallery dates back to the 19th century, when American theater patrons seated highest up and farthest from the stage were dubbed the peanut gallery. Those folks felt free to heckle the entertainers, and since the snack food of choice upstairs was, in fact, peanuts, performers who failed to please would be greeted by peanuts from up high.

 
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