Monday, March 3, 2014


It’s easy these days to find people doing things that deserve a Bronx cheer—or, if you prefer, a raspberry. This rude sound, used to show displeasure, is made by blowing through lips that are slightly parted with the tongue loosely placed between them. It can properly be directed toward the craven politicians, overpaid CEOs, grasping bankers, callous pharmaceutical manufacturers, hypocritical clergymen, duplicitous sports figures, or self-indulgent show-biz stars of your choice.  And maybe a few others, for good measure.

A “raspberry” gets its name from the Cockney rhyming slang term “raspberry tart”—a polite way of saying “fart,” a physical occurrence whose sound resembles the rude noise made with the lips.  The term has been in use since 1890.  “Raspberry tart” becomes simply “raspberry” through the Cockney custom of using only the first part of a two-part rhyme to stand for the thing that is signified:  thus, plates of meat, shortened to “plates,” means feet; loaf of bread, or “loaf,” means “head”, and trouble and strife, or “trouble,” means “wife.”

The same noise has been called a “Bronx cheer” since 1929 and probably had its origin in the noises made by New York Yankees fans to show their displeasure at an unfavorable umpire’s ruling or a boneheaded play by one of the teams. Yankee Stadium is located in the Bronx. 

Raspberry, meaning the fruit, also has an interesting etymology.  Known since 1540 as a raspis berry, it is probably derived from its similarity in color to raspise, a sweet, rose-colored wine also known as vinum raspeys. It was made from pomace, a paste made by grinding grapes, and the file used to grind them was called a raspa. Others say the roughness of the fruit’s exterior gave it its name from its similarity to the rasp itself.

Older and therefore more well-informed readers may remember a character in the comic strip “Li’l Abner” named Joe Btfsplk.  Always pictured with a black cloud over his head, he was the epitome of hard luck. His creator, Al Capp, said his surname was pronounced just like the raspberry sound.

Raspberries have never been the favorite fruit of the Bard of Buffalo Bayou.  He has always been more partial to the grape in its liquid form.

            Never have I met a crude gent
            Cruder than the lewd Ted Nugent,
            And if his presence is a habit
            For the GOP’s Greg Abbott,
            Then it would appear that Greg
            Thinks he can pull the voters’ leg.

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