My father has been on my mind lately, he used a lot of colorful expressions, like calling us (my brother, sister and I) “the peanut gallery” when we were in high spirits and acting silly. It came as a mild shock that, in fact, it wasn’t used to describe silliness at all. Here is what I discovered this morning:
- The hindmost or uppermost section of seating in a theater balcony, where the seats are cheapest. (2.) In reference to theaters, of the section with the highest, cheapest seats; hence “people who occupy a (theater) gallery” (contrasted with “gentlemen of the pit”) first by Lovelace, 1640s, hence “to play to the gallery”. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=peanut+gallery
So, it’s a slight to those people who can’t afford the expensive seats.
- A group of people whose opinions are considered unimportant: “Pressure is building … to force … Alan Greenspan to cut interest rates and pump up the money supply. [He] has politely ignored these catcalls from the peanut gallery” (H. Erich Heinemann).
- A source of insignificant criticism: “No remarks from the peanut gallery!”[1885–90, American slang]