Origin of ‘Blow a Raspberry’
How are you? I’m okay. Do you know what it means to ‘blow a raspberry’? Of course you do. Besides Three’s Company, my other all-time favorite situation comedy in the whole wide world is All in the Family. And nobody with even a passing familiarity with Archie Bunker hasn’t seen ol’ Arch blow a big ol’ raspberry at Meathead, Edith, Irene Lorenzo, or anyone else with whom the Man of the House crossed swords.
Here is how Wikipedia defines blowing a raspberry:
Blowing a raspberry or making a Bronx cheer is to make a noise made to signify derision (and/or silliness), made by sticking out the tongue between the lips and blowing to make a sound reminiscent of flatulence. In the terminology of phonetics, this sound does not appear to have an official name, but might be characterized as a linguolabial trill. It is never used in human language phonemically (i.e., to be used as a building block of words), but it is widely used across human cultures as well as by other primates.
I’m also familiar with a variant of the raspberry whereby the giver lifts the shirt of the receiver, presses his mouth to the receiver’s stomach, and blows out air against the receiver’s stomach. This is an affectionate activity transacted between two adults as well between adults and infants. Does this variant of blowing a raspberry ring a bell with any of you? (At least one of the Urban Dictionary contributors knows about this, despite his or her horrendous command of English.)
UPDATE: As MTA commenter Linda was so kind to point out, this latter usage of the noun raspberry is actually known as a ZRBTT, zerbert, zerbet, or “blowfart.” Furthermore, I should have known that the zerbert is a fundamentally different usage from “our” usage of raspberry inasmuch as a zerbert is a playful gesture, and a raspberry is a gesture that is intended to express displeasure. My apologies are hereby extended to you for the confusion.
Well, the cogent question is “How in the world did raspberry come to be associated with either flatulence or derision?”
Curiously enough, raspberry derived from Cockney rhyming slang; in particular, from the phrase raspberry tart. You see where I’m going here, right? Yes…obviously the first word of the second phrase is lost to the ages, but the rhyming couplet under consideration here is tart:fart.
The lingua franca piece “Slang & Back Slang” from June 19, 2004 contains some first-hand insight into how Cockney rhyming slang works:
Because I grew up in the back streets of London, my earliest slang memories are of Cockney rhyming slang, an argot which is alleged to have been invented and used in Dickensian times by petty criminals, to fool the mugs and to misdirect the forces of law and order.
Rhyming slang uses a simple approach. Two well-connected words are chosen, the second of which rhymes with the word which the slanger wants to substitute. So let’s say that ’stairs’ becomes ‘apples and pears’, and ‘road’ becomes ‘frog and toad’, and ‘wife’ becomes ‘trouble and strife’, and ‘phone’ becomes ‘dog and bone’. Thus the trouble and strife would walk down the apples and pears and along the frog and toad to use the public dog and bone.
The OED states that the first published instance of raspberry being used in this derisive context was in 1890, in Barrerre and Leland’s A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon, and Cant. Following is the relevant citation:
The tongue is inserted in the left cheek and forced through the lips, producing a peculiarly squashy noise that is extremely irritating. It is termed, I believe, a raspberry, and when not employed for the purpose of testing horseflesh, is regarded rather as an expression of contempt than of admiration.
That’s all I have for your tonight. Take care.