Tag Archives: sibling rivalry

Fruit cup rivalry redux

I once wrote about the appearance of sibling rivalry as a concept in the 1930s even as “parenting” was catching on: the irony that the spread of solutions sometimes causes problems to appear.

So I was curious to read George Howe Colt’s essay about sibling rivalry in today’s New York TimesHe reports the term “sibling rivalry” was “coined in 1930 and popularized by the child psychiatrist David Levy,” which fits the Oxford English Dictionary dating and my graph of Google ngrams (save for a few blips from items that are misdated in the database — like a 1970 Time article listed as published 1927 — or things that don’t really contain the term. Caution is advised when looking at anything in there involving small numbers.)

But as I was reading random snippets about sibling rivalry, I caught a reference to fruit cocktail from an obituary of the writer Erma Bombeck in the Times. I stuck on it because that phrase also was in the Colt essay.

Going back to Bombeck’s 1967 book At Wit’s End (no page number, but this link should take you to the page in Google Books):

It eventually reaches the point where they are measuring their cut of meat with a micrometer to see they are getting their fare share as set down by the Geneva Convention, and being represented by legal counsel to see who gets the fruit cocktail with the lone cherry on top. The rivalry of each day, however, seems to culminate at the dinner table.

And from today’s Colt essay:

Attempting to forestall quarrels, our mother cut portions so nearly identical it would have taken a micrometer to tell them apart. But in vain. Whether lunging for the last hot dog, filching an extra piece of crispy skin from the roast chicken or merely noting who had gotten the most cherries in his fruit cocktail, each of us struggled, constantly, to get our fair share — or, preferably, a lot more.

What are the odds that cut+micrometer and fruit cocktail+cherry would appear in the same paragraph in two different sources on the same subject?

Maybe Bombeck’s writing was so vivid that the image stuck in Colt’s head, or even became part of his family folklore after someone read Bombeck back in the day. Or maybe he was Googling around for the history of sibling rivalry when he wrote the essay.

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