I was drawn to the phrase “pass peach seeds” in Thomas Harris’s novel “The Silence of the Lambs,” which I started to read last month and from whose text I have posted several questions, including one relating to this passage:

“Don’t spill that (Coke mixed with Jack Daniel’s)” in here, “Jeff said. “Don’t worry, Jeff” Mapp said. Quietly to Starling, “You should have seen my man Jeff waiting for me outside the liquor store. He looked like he was passing peach seeds.” When Mapp saw the whisky start to work little, Mapp said, “How you doing, Starling?” -ibid.351.

Though I gather from the context that “pass peach seeds” means “avoid / duck out of an undesirable thing / matter”, I’m unable to find this phrase in the dictionaries I have at hand. Google Ngram doesn’t recognize this phrase either.

However, I found the following example of “pass peach seeds” in Yahoo Answers:

Will my dog pass this peach seed? - If it's whole - not likely. You really ought to keep an eye on your dog and see how she does. If she continues to eliminate and eat normally, she's going to be fine.

What is the exact meaning of “pass peach seeds”? Why should it be "peach seeds," not apple, pear or grape seeds? Is it a popular idiom, or just a one-off figurative expression used by the author? Would you show me another good example of employing this phrase?

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    A peach seed is more commonly referred to as a peach pit (or stone), because it is so much larger than the seeds of other fruits (such as apples, pears, or grapes). To "pass", in that sense, means to "excrete", usually but not always, to defecate rather than urinate; so the whole phrase could be interpreted as "He looked as if he were trying to poop out a large, hard, uncomfortable object" (imagine the look on someone's face who was literally trying to do that).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 12:09
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    I've never heard of the thing inside a peach ever being called anything other than 'peach pit', but NGrams and the answers comments here say that the other two options are less frequent but reasonable alternatives. That said, go with 'peach pit'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 13:02
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    "pit" is not British English (stone would be the most likely replacement here, though seed is often used in other contexts) hence ngram etc. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 15:10
  • It would be easy to pass peach seeds, as they are quite small and more rounded than the pit or stone which surrounds them. To see a peach seed, simply take a nutcracker to the peach pit or stone, and you will find the seed inside. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 21:52
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    @tchrist actually I haven't bought cherries for so long I have no idea. But I think we would use "pitted" for a fruit with a stone that had been removed (as opposed to "seedless" for something like a grape). Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 7:39

3 Answers 3


To pass peach seeds is a more polite version of a country expression, to shit peach pits. Since peach pits are large, hard, and sharp at each end, passing them through one's anus would be exceedingly painful and would likely cause some damage requiring surgical repair.

The expression means something painful, and feared because it is painful.

I have heard this expression all my life. Although it is picturesque, I think it is also hyperbole, therefore a figurative expression. A peach pit would be likely to perforate some soft tissue in the gut long before it got to the anus to be passed.

Edited to answer a question from the comments: Where I am from will not answer your question as to where this expression is common. I heard it in Georgia, USA (nicknamed The Peach State) and in orchard areas of Iowa and Washington State. My husband, who grew up in Texas and Montana, also uses this expression.

To shit a brick as someone else said is a different phrase, one with equivalent crudity but without the witty image of the peach pit going through the digestive tract. A person may accidentally swallow a peach pit, but how is the brick going to get in there?

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    Indeed, I find it hard to imagine a peach pit making it as far as the stomach.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 4:11
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    Can you include in your answer what area you're from? I've never heard that expression before (though the meaning was apparent from context) and you say you've heard it all your life, so I'd be interested to know where it's from :) Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 10:40
  • I've swallowed peach pits before now, @phoog. They digest without problem.
    – TRiG
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 16:45
  • Similarly, I use the (vulgar) phrase "shit a brick" -- though it usually has the connotation of "flipping out", but "he looked like he might shit a brick" follows the same connotation as "he looked like he was passing peach seeds".
    – Adrian
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 20:10

The meaning is 'to eliminate a peach seed from one's system by defecating it' (or, to put it more vulgarly but concisely, 'to shit a peach seed').

Here, the verb 'to pass' is a euphemism for 'to expel from the anus', which is probably familiar to many English speakers from the expression 'to pass gas', i.e. to fart.

The implication of this allusion is that for some reason Jeff was finding his situation as uncomfortable as if he was expelling a peach stone.

Incidentally, most native speakers of English would probably refer to peach stones or perhaps peach pits rather than peach seeds — although botanically, they are indeed seeds.

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    +1. Re: "Here, the verb 'to pass' is a euphemism for 'to expel from the anus'": Or something a bit more general. The same sense of pass is also found in to pass water, meaning "to urinate".
    – ruakh
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 14:55

Pass: to discharge (body waste, for example); to be voided:

Luckily the kidney stone passed before she had to be hospitalized. (TFD)

It's a polite was of saying to "evacuate" (in these cases, from the gastrointestinal tract.) If you've ever seen a peach pit (the seed of the peach), you might imagine the discomfort associated with passing one, let alone multiple pits.

You should have seen my man Jeff waiting for me outside the liquor store. He looked like he was passing peach seeds.

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