Q&A: The meaning of fruitloops

Posted by on December 14, 2009

Fotolia_9509326_smallA user of the Macmillan Dictionary has sent in a query about the meaning of a word that was new to me:

I am looking for the meaning of ‘fruitloops‘ as Debora Shuger uses it in her Political Theologies in Shakespeare’s England. ‘… the play wrestles with a law that seems basically fruitloops‘ says she.

I’m always delighted when someone brings a new piece of colourful language to my attention, though I always feel a bit guilty too, as though I had failed in my sacred lexicographic duty to know the meaning of every item in the language. None of my conventional dictionaries covers this word, nor does either of my slang dictionaries. Wikipedia reveals that Froot Loops are a kind of brightly coloured breakfast cereal sold in many countries (but not the UK, which is presumably why I had never heard of them, though we do have other loop-based breakfast cereals here). Fruit loops, meanwhile, are multicoloured rings worn to symbolize gay pride. Wikipedia gives several sexual meanings for the term fruit loops, plus one which I think is the one being used here:

A fruitloop can also refer to a person considered crazy.

A quick search of the Macmillan corpus reveals that the word is extremely infrequent: there are a mere nineteen citations for it. Some are a bit too rude to print, but here are just a few:

Why am I a fruitloop and not others?
To me he remains fascinating, but reads increasingly like a complete fruit-loop.
He works as the editor of the ‘ Daily Underground Voice ‘ newspaper and is a bit of a nutter / fruit loop etc.

The corpus citations bear out the meaning that is suggested by the context of the reader’s quotation. However, unlike the other examples I have found, the writer seems to be using it as an adjective: I presume that she means that the law seems crazy, senseless, unreasonable. The book is about Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and the law referred to is presumably the one by which Claudio is sentenced to death for making his girlfriend pregnant. I’m not familiar with Debora Shuger’s work, though I may now seek it out. The fact that she uses such an informal term in a work of literary criticism suggests that her books may be a good read.

Interestingly enough, I could have guessed the meaning of this word not only from the context but also from two other rather similar words. One is fruitcake, which is used to refer to a crazy person; the other is loopy, which means crazy.

I pointed out to the questioner that all these terms should be used with caution, as many people find them offensive because of the derogatory view of mental illness they imply.

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Comments (6)
  • When I was in high school (in the 60’s) in the U.S., buttoned down shirts (tailored with button down collars) with a small loop in the upper back on a seam that joined the pieces of the back were in fashion. The small loop was called a fruit loop among us pupils and a favorite “pastime” during the breaks and even in class (if you were sitting behind someone wearing this kind of shirt) was to hook your finger in the fruitloop and threaten to pull it off.

    Posted by Nina on 17th December, 2009
  • Fruitloop used to be a common word refering to someone a bit stupid back in school.

    Posted by Caleb on 22nd December, 2009
  • There’s a definition here, though just for one sense!

    http://english.oxforddictionaries.com/view/entry/m_en_gb0993791#m_en_gb0993791

    Posted by Sara on 30th November, 2010
  • Posted by sara on 30th November, 2010
  • As the author, I confess that I had no idea of the sexual meanings. I meant “daft,” “loony,” “idiotic,” but wanted a word with no cognitive content, since I was trying to articulate the instant, unconsidered, almost reflex reaction we (i.e., most modern readers of Shakespeare) have to the law in Shakespeare’s Vienna but also to the not dissimilar law actually passed during the Interregnum making adultery a death penalty offense. I’d heard the expression for years and assumed it was perfectly conventional slang. I am sorry for having caused confusion. dks

    Posted by Debora / Shuger on 1st February, 2011
  • Rather than causing confusion, the original query caused me delight, as it is always a pleasure to come across and then investigate these unfamiliar uses. Interesting, too, that there is still such a gulf between UK and US expressions – I don’t think anyone here uses ‘fruitloops’ much. I think the nearest UK equivalent might be ‘bonkers’, which would similarly be used for unconsidered instant reaction

    Posted by Liz Potter on 1st February, 2011
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