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In the “Peanut Gallery”

As a teacher and writer, I have to watch my language. I check regularly to be sure I am communicating what I intend. That is why I looked up a phrase I have been hearing in a professional group I belong to. The phrase is “peanut gallery.”

As a member of the so-called “peanut gallery” who participates in teleseminars and a discussion forum, I am invited to share my professional opinion.

But is the peanut gallery an impressive place?


According to my American Heritage College Dictionary, “peanut gallery” means “a group of people whose opinions are considered unimportant.” It is also “the hindmost or uppermost section of seating in a theater balcony, where the seats are cheapest.”

No, the peanut gallery is not the place to be. I’m going to talk to my professional peers and suggest we change our language. I’d rather be in the “expert circle.” Wouldn’t you?

If you are coming across phrases used in a way the speaker or writer does not intend, please share them. Let’s educate one another!

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

5 comments on “In the “Peanut Gallery””

  • Dear Lynn,

    The phrase I keep coming across that’s always mis-used is “the exception that proves the rule”. It really means “the exception that implies the rule” (eg a sign on a shop that says “Closed on Sundays” implies the rule that the shop is open on other days), but people seem to take it literally (eg seeing a black swan proves the rule that there are only white swans) without realising that it makes no sense!

  • Regarding Sarah’s comment above. I’m a native spanish speaker and we use the same expression in our language. “The exception confirms the rule, we say”.

    I think it comes from the idea that (at least in Spanish) most grammar rules have some exceptions. So I understand that the intend is to say that even if there is an exception, the rule remains being a rule. About the black swan example, I think you are right. It seems not to work for biological rules.

    Lynn, Thank you for your blog, it is of great help for people like me working to improve our English.

  • I remember way back when during my dance career, our choreographer always used to say “quiet in the peanut gallery” to everyone who was talking while she was trying to teach new dance steps to part of our group.

    I never knew what that meant for years until I looked it up as well. Now that I think back, it was a clever and candid way for her to control the class without sounding overly dictative.

  • Hi, Sarah. Thanks for bringing up “the exception proves the rule.” I have to admit I don’t remember ever thinking about or using that expression. But you are absolutely right: used with swans, it makes no sense.

    Being curious, I looked up the expression in “Garner’s Modern American Usage,” an excellent guide. Garner explains that the expression has evolved from a legal maxim. Generally speaking, citing exceptions in a case strengthened the law itself.

    Thanks for your example.

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