The Origin Of The Phrase 'Go Bananas'

When we say the phrase "go bananas," we want to say that someone's lost their mind. Or, in the case of Gwen Stefani singing "Hollaback Girl," when she sings that this "s*** is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S," the No Doubt singer-turned pop princess is letting her listeners know that the situation's gone completely nuts ... and she's spelling it out just to be sure. Or, you can say that Russell Westbrook went bananas with another triple-double, only for the Los Angeles Lakers to lose in triple overtime to the Sacramento Kings — that means he put up some eye-popping numbers on the stat sheet, therefore going crazy with what he can do on the court. Alternately, it can also be used when someone is very angry, or if somebody reacts in a similarly passionate manner toward someone or something.

As you can see, this is an expression that is commonly used in everyday conversation, and in a number of different ways. But when did people start using the term and how did the phrase originate? To answer that question, we'll need to go back several decades, first to the 1960s, which was when "go bananas" was first used in its current context.

'Go bananas' was an offshoot of 'go ape'

The origin of "go bananas" definitely stretches much farther back than the mid-2000s, which, of course, is when the aforementioned "Hollaback Girl" became a huge pop hit. According to Grammarist, the term first became popular in the 1960s when it was used frequently by American college students. The generally accepted narrative is that people closely associated bananas with apes, hence the use of "go bananas" in a similar manner as "go ape" — an older idiom that also found its way to the world of popular music, specifically when Neil Sedaka released the single "I Go Ape" in 1959. (Go check it out if copious simian references in your vintage rock 'n' roll are your thing.)

Given that "go bananas" and "go ape" both suggest that someone is extremely enthusiastic, angry, or unhinged, it's not surprising that the former expression sort of evolved from the latter. However, "go bananas" did have a different usage a few decades prior, one that is much darker and unquestionably unflattering. During the 1930s, the expression was used to refer to sexually perverted individuals — this is still done on occasion, albeit very infrequently compared to the traditional usage of the term.