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That elongated yellow fruit

Readers of yesterday’s post will be delighted to learn of further evidence on the origin of the risible* periphrase** elongated yellow fruit for banana.

Nick from Boston sent me a copy of an 1996 article by James Gill in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans that contained this passage:

Charles W. Morton used to collect examples of the forced second reference, and, as luck would have it, a copy of one of his essays on the subject - hard to find these days - turned up last week. …

It was about 60 years ago that Morton was in the city room of the Boston Evening Transcript and came across a story about policemen using bananas as bait in an attempt to capture fugitive monkeys.

"The young rewrite man of the story was bowling along in high spirits, full of references to 'the gendarmes' and 'the blue-coated minions of the law,' and it was inevitable that in such a context the word banana would seem woefully dull," Morton relates. "So it was that bananas became, after first mention, 'the elongated yellow fruit.' "

A little further rummaging about the Internet suggests that Morton’s article may be included in A Slight Sense of Outrage. Anyone have access to a copy?


* You might prefer laughable, but I hear risible in my head in Anna Russell’s irresistible voice.

** Periphrase is a rhetorical device in which a descriptive phrase or epithet is substituted for a word or name. In moderation — the president as an alternative to writing Bush repeatedly — it is a reasonable remedy for monotony. Taken to excess, as ill-judging writers tend to do with figures of speech — the white-robed pontiff for the pope — it becomes affected, distracting or ridiculous.



Posted by John McIntyre at 4:02 PM | | Comments (8)


sorry to belabor the point, but...
i'm telling you, watch some tennis with Dick Emberg doing the color commentary. No one is referred to by name. It's "the fiery Cypriot" or "the muscle-bound Majorcan."

Perhaps when I die and am sent to Hell.

If the elegant variation is a mark of second-rate writers, what does it tell us about grocery store workers?

I recently edited an article (for an academic journal!) that referred to stars as "these nocturnal luminaries" and "lustrous bodies of the night sky." Both appeared in the same paragraph amid some of the purplest prose I've ever read.

I think I've suggested a pet theory, before, that this sort of circumlocutionary writing is a result of everyone's hearing radio commentary for the past century.

The good writers can get past it.

I am somewhat doubtful of this story, or at least its date, and here's why: In the 1980s, I read a newpaper article that, to avoid repeating the word "bananas," used the phrase "the elongated yellow fruit." This was a regular news story and not anything meant to evoke the past. It stuck me as so ludicrous that I drew a picture of a banana with this "elongated" synonym as its caption. I don't think it's possible that the reporter thought this up independently. I have to suspect that someone else noticed that report and the joke got retold and garbled.

Ah, I just saw that 1953 article linked, so I must concede that the writer either DID think it up on his own (unlikely) or was making an inside joke.

That was my great grandfather and he was the editor of the Atlantic Monthly magazine in Boston ....... his yellow elongated fruit contest went on for years.... and when I heard about it.... I picked up where he left off! The game began with a Time magazine writer using too many words to describe BANANA...... and folks from all over began sending in their best. You should probably start your own little contest..... it can be very funny! In your search add Charles W Morton Time Atlantic Monthly yellow elongated fruit ..... you will get the whole story..... have a great day! Vicky

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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