peanut gallery


noun

Informal. the rearmost and cheapest section of seats in the balcony or the uppermost balcony of a theater.
Slang. a source of insignificant criticism: No remarks from the peanut gallery!

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Origin of peanut gallery

An Americanism dating back to 1885–90
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

More context on peanut gallery

First evidenced in the late 1800s, peanut gallery, as we explain in our definition above, is “the rearmost and cheapest section of seats in the balcony or the uppermost balcony of a theater.”

Apparently, the term takes its name from the people who sat there and ate peanuts. These people, who were often poor or Black, became stereotyped as rowdy—and this history gives the problematic peanut gallery classist and racist undertones.

Beginning in the 1800s, peanut gallery started to spread as a slang term for a “source of insignificant criticism” by association with the behaviors of the stereotypical occupants of the peanut gallery.

If knowing the history of peanut gallery has got you reflecting on your word choices, this slideshow, “These Common Words Have Offensive Histories,” discusses many other words whose place in your vocab you may want to reconsider. 

Keep in mind …

There isn’t an exact synonym for peanut gallery, but heckler, smart-aleck, know-it-all, and hairsplitter get close. Consider some more options in nitpicker and its synonyms over at Thesaurus.com.

Add two-bit or small-time before any of these words for some extra oomph. As for the actual location, cheap seats and nosebleeds are possible alternatives if you need them.