‘to give a raspberry’: meanings and origin

Frequently occurring in the colloquial phrase to blow (or to give) a (or the) raspberry, the noun raspberry is used figuratively to denote a sound made by blowing with the tongue between the lips, as an expression of mockery or contempt.

This sound is suggestive of breaking wind, and, here, the noun raspberry is probably:
– short for raspberry tart;
– rhyming slang for fart.
—However, the below-quoted comment (cf. note at occurrence 1) seems to imply that the noun raspberry alludes to the verb rasp, meaning to make a grating noise.

The noun raspberry is also used figuratively to denote a rejection, a reprimand.

The earliest occurrences that I have found of the noun raspberry denoting a rude sound are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From A look in at Rymill’s, the account of a visit to Rymill’s, in the Barbican, London, where trade-horses were auctioned, by ‘The Talepitcher’, published in The Sporting Times. Otherwise known as The “Pink ’Un.” (London, England) of Saturday 23rd June 1888:

One gentleman I came across had a way of finding out the cussedness of this or that animal by a method that I found to be not entirely his own. 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 horse-flesh, is regarded rather as an expression of contempt than of admiration. This particular gentleman was very lavish with it, and worked so upon the feelings of three or four of the quadrupeds in the double-stalled stables.

Note: In A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant: Embracing English, American, and Anglo-Indian Slang, Pidgin English, Tinkers’ Jargon and Other Irregular Phraseology (Printed for subscribers only at the Ballantyne Press, 1890), s.v. “Raspberry (coachmen)”, Albert Barrère and Charles G. Leland quoted A look in at Rymill’s, and added the following comment:

The allusion is to a grating noise like that produced by rasping.

2-: From Gal’s Gossip, by ‘Pitcher’, published in The Sporting Times. Otherwise known as The “Pink ’Un.” (London, England) of Saturday 21st May 1898—in this letter to “Dearest Madge”, Ethel gave an account of “a dramatic recital in the suburbs”:

The performance, which was in aid of the funds of the Housemaids’ Knee Hospital, was given in a hall at Cricklewood by a Mrs. Rokeby-Bangers, a society amateur who aims to elevate the stage, but appears to me to find the plums too high for her pole. […]
Certainly Mrs. Rokeby-Bangers’ Portia was, as Charlie expresses it, “a bit of Nelson’s old flagship”—pretty rotten—and it’s [sic] reception by a coarse galleryite led to an unfortunate contretemps. I must tell you that Mrs. Bangers came on dressed as a Venetian doctor of laws, and scarcely had she spoken the impressive sentence:
“It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heav’n” . . .
—when a loud and offensive noise, like the rending of glazed calico, made by obtruding the wet tongue between the closed lips, and by low cabmen and persons of that class, called a “raspberry,” came from the gallery. So loud and resonant was it that it was quite impossible for Mrs. Rokeby-Bangers to pass it over unnoticed; but, still, it was certainly very bad policy on her part to pause in the delivery of Portia’s speech and, addressing herself to the horrid brute who was still making the noise, reply in tones of cynical banter,
“All right, don’t tear it; I’ll take the piece!”

The noun raspberry is then used figuratively—especially in the phrase to blow (or to give) a (or the) raspberry—in the following:

1-: From The Hamilton Daily Times (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) of Thursday 27th November 1913—here, the meaning of the phrase to give the raspberry is obscure:

Lord Ballyrot in Slangland

With a chap who is interested in reform and all that sort of thing, don’t you know, I attended a prize fight. My friend desired to obtain material for an expose of this brutal sport. In the excitement of the battle, however, he quite forgot himself and urged on one of the contestants as follows:
“Hey, you big rum, can that Gaby Glide stuff and wade in to his lunch grabbers. Give ’im the raspberry, stop his clock, smoke his lamp, jam his radiator, smear him in the lug. Quit yer stalling and start that cheese champ on a sleep walk while he’s all to the mustard. He won’t bit you. Smack him on the lung!”

2-: From Love Time in Picardy (New York: Britton Publishing Company, 1919), a novel by the U.S. author William Addison Lathrop (1864-1925):

“I wanted to take you away from it all—to new places and new faces—to put all this behind you as far as possible! But it seems—” he did not finish.
“My dear friend,” said Yvonne, at length—she was soothing him now—“don’t you see how impossible that is—that it cannot be? It would not be right for either of us—now.”
Winthrop took heart: “Now?” he asked, with hope in his voice and significant emphasis upon the word.
Yvonne slowly shook her head: “No—not ever,” she said with gentle firmness, but with an effort.
Through the kitchen door came Hickey, his arm about Grandpere’s shoulder: “An’ you never seen Barnum’s Circus nor Buffalo Bill nor the Giants nor Coney Island?” Pere Gerome shook his head, laughing. […] Then he turned to Winthrop and Yvonne, and, in a low tone, said to Pere Gerome, “Chief, she’s gave him the raspberry—I’ve got it so often myself that I know the signs an’ I’m mighty sorry! I guess the only thing to do now is to bust up that good-bye thing and get him out o’ his trance.”

3-: From the concluding lines of Brighter Courts-Martial, by ‘A. A.’, published in Punch, or the London Charivari (London, England) of Wednesday 14th December 1927:

I have embodied the above suggestions in a Memo, and they are now on their way to the Army Council. By the time you read this they may even be on their way back, with a raspberry from Somebody Very Senior written across the top left-hand corner.

4-: From the account of a speech made by the British actor Bransby Williams (1870-1961) at the weekly luncheon of the Chester Rotary Club, published in The Cheshire Observer (Chester, Cheshire, England) of Saturday 22nd March 1930:

Mr. Bransby Williams […] stated, there were different kinds of audiences. There was the wireless audience a silent one, and they did not know if they were going well, because they could not see their faces. Sometimes at his home they decided to “give the raspberry” to a turn and just switch the wireless off. (Laughter.)

5-: From the Falkirk Herald (Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland) of Wednesday 24th September 1930:

FALKIRK CINEMA SCENE.—The sequel to a disturbance which took place in “The Cinema,” Melville Street, Falkirk, was heard at Falkirk Police Court on Saturday morning, when two young men appeared to answer charges of creating a breach of the peace on 5th September. The accused were Andrew Anderson, bath-moulder, 100 Orchard Street, Camelon, and Peter Jones, labourer, 7 Muirhead’s Buildings, Falkirk, and both admitted the charge. The Fiscal stated that the two men were in the picture-house, and commenced to make indecent and objectionable noises with their mouths. The attendants went up to them and got hold of Jones. They experienced some difficulty in ejecting him from the house. While this was going on, Anderson jumped up on his seat and shouted, “Come on, boys!” to several of his companions. Jones explained that he had been warned by the attendants to keep quiet, but shortly afterwards someone in front of him gave the “raspberry,” and the attendants pounced on him (Jones) under the impression [it] was him who had made the noise. Bailie Bell, in fining each of the accused 10s. with the alternative of five days’ imprisonment, remarked that the women in the audience were put into an alarmed state and might easily have become terrorised.

6-: From The Coatbridge Leader (Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, Scotland) of Saturday 20th December 1930:


Before Judge Rankin at the Police Court on Monday, Alexander Donald and James Gallacher, both of Douglas Street, were charged with having committed a breach of the peace in Henderson Street on 7th inst.
Donald pleaded not guilty and his case was continued till Thursday for proof.
The other accused pleaded guilty.
Chief-Constable M‘Donald said that Gallacher had caused a row at 7.15 p.m. on Sunday night, 7th inst. He was sixteen years of age and had no previous convictions.
Judge Rankin (to accused)—What have you to say?
Gallacher—I was only “kidding.” Other fellows were shouting and giving the “raspberry.”
Judge Rankin—I admonish and dismiss you, but, remember, there is no “kidding” here.

7-: From the account of a case heard at West London County Court, published in the South Western Star (London, England) of Friday 13th November 1931:

was Mr. Duckworth’s next question.
Applicant: I don’t know.
Mr. Duckworth: Don’t know?
Applicant: Well, fruit.
Have you ever heard anybody “blow a raspberry”?—Yes, I have.
Have you blown one yourself before now?—l may have done.
Didn’t you “blow a raspberry” at the sauce-cook before you got into the kitchen?—l didn’t.
“Blowing a raspberry” is intended to be some sort of an insult, isn’t it?—l don’t know.
It is not intended to be a compliment, is it?—l don’t know.
Well, when you have blown one, why did you do it?
Applicant hesitated.
“You know perfectly well it is used as an expression of contempt, isn’t it?” said Mr. Duckworth.
Applicant: It may be.
“Let us assume it is,” then said Mr. Duckworth.
Counsel went on to suggest that the true version of the incident was that applicant “blew a raspberry” at the sauce-cook and began to play about with him.

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