General English


  • noun a ball that moves substantially in the air, describing a wide ‘banana-shaped’ arc as it swings into or away from the batsman
    Citation ‘He [Dilley] played for England early last June in two one-day internationals against India … and bowled medium-paced bananas, which brought him the axe’ (Scyld Berry, Observer 22 May 1983)
    See swing


  • The fruit of a giant herb, genus Musa, (all sterile hybrids without exact species names, but sometimes named M.sapientum), grown in hot climates throughout the world. The individual fruits 7 – 24 cm long grow in bunches from a central stalk and are usually picked green for transportation and ripened to yellow prior to sale. The flesh is soft and cream coloured and when underripe a source of useful low-digestibility starch, said to reduce the chance of bowel cancer. The skin is thick and easily removed. dessert bananas when ripe have a sugar content of 17 to 19 per cent. Unripe bananas and some which would never reach a high sugar content are eaten as a staple food and known as plantain. After fruiting the stem of the plant dies back and new suckers grow from the base.


  • noun a foolish person. This childish term of mild abuse is now obsolescent in Britain, but predictably is still heard in post-colonial English in the Indian subcontinent, Malaysia, the Caribbean, etc. The 1950s term nana was a shorter form.
  • noun the penis. The mock nursery term tummy banana is more common.
  • noun a light-skinned black woman. A term used by black men which is both appreciative and offensive.
  • noun an Oriental person who affects white manners or collaborates with the white establishment. A term used by both white and Oriental-language speakers, e.g. in Hong Kong and on US campuses.


  • A slang term for a comedian. The term originated in US burlesque,with the best or senior comedian being the 'top banana' followed bythe 'second banana', 'third banana', etc. The term was apparentlysuggested by the banana-shaped clubs filled with air or water thatburlesque comedians used to hit one another over the head. These implementsmay be related to the phallic symbols used in comedy performancesin the ancient Greek and Roman theaters.


  • noun the long yellow curved fruit of a large tropical plant


  • the smell of some very young wines due to the amyl acetate found in newly bottled wine, which diminishes with age

Origin & History of “banana”

Banana comes from a west African language – possibly Wolof, a language of the Niger-Congo family, spoken in Senegal and the Gambia. The original European discoverers of the word – and the fruit – were the Spanish and Portuguese, who passed them on to England. The term bananas ‘mad’ is 20th-century, but its origins are obscure; some have compared banana oil, a 20th-century slang term for ‘mad talk, nonsense’.