Rotten Tomato: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
December 27, 2023

The term "rotten tomato" is often used to describe something of poor quality or not well-received. It can refer to an actual spoiled tomato or be used metaphorically to talk about movies, performances, or other forms of entertainment that didn't meet expectations. While the term can be used in various contexts, it's most commonly associated with movie reviews and ratings.

In short:

  • It refers to something of poor quality or not well-liked.
  • It is most commonly used in the context of movie reviews and ratings.

What Does "Rotten Tomato" Mean?

When someone mentions a "rotten tomato," they're talking about something that didn't hit the mark or wasn't well-received. It's like saying something was a flop or a failure. For instance, if a movie didn't do well at the box office or received poor reviews, someone might say, "That film was a real rotten tomato."

Let's explore its core meanings and usage:

  • It's a way to express disappointment or disapproval of something, especially in entertainment.
  • The term can describe anything from a bad movie to a poorly executed performance.
  • Historically, audiences threw rotten tomatoes at performers they didn't like, which is where the term likely originates.
  • Today, "Rotten Tomatoes" is also the name of a popular movie review website that rates films based on critics' and audience reviews.
  • Similar phrases might include "flop," "dud," or "missed the mark."

Where Does "Rotten Tomato" Come From?

The phrase “rotten tomato” has its roots in the practice of audiences throwing rotten tomatoes in disapproval of a poor stage performance. This practice is connected to the name of the American review-aggregation website for film and television, Rotten Tomatoes, which was launched in August 1998 by three undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley: Senh Duong, Patrick Y. Lee, and Stephen Wang. The direct inspiration for the name came from an equivalent scene in the 1992 Canadian film Léolo.

10 Examples of "Rotten Tomato" in Sentences

To help you understand when to use this term, let's look at some examples from various situations:

  • It is what it is; not every film can avoid getting a rotten tomato from critics.
  • She bought some tomatoes from the market, but one turned out to be a rotten tomato.
  • She’s out of my league, and I’m just a rotten tomato in her eyes.
  • He tried to make a salad but realized he had a rotten tomato in the mix.
  • The band's latest album was a rotten tomato, receiving poor reviews from critics.
  • To each their own, I wouldn’t touch that rotten tomato with a ten-foot pole.
  • The play was a hit, but one critic called it a rotten tomato.
  • He tried to recoup expenses by selling his rotten tomatoes at a discount.
  • The book received mixed reviews, with some calling it a masterpiece and others labeling it a rotten tomato.
  • During the festival, they had a game where participants could throw a rotten tomato at a target.

Examples of "Rotten Tomato" in Pop Culture

This term is also quite popular in pop culture, especially in the context of movie and show reviews.

Let's explore some examples:

  • In the article "There's Something Fishy About 'The Little Mermaid' Audience Review Scores," Forbes discusses the Rotten Tomato user reviews for "The Little Mermaid." This article investigates the unusual patterns in audience ratings for the film.
  • In the article "Is Rotten Tomatoes Killing the Movie Industry? No, Bad Movies Are," debates the impact of Rotten Tomato ratings on the film industry. This discussion explores the relationship between critical ratings and box office success.
  • In the article “Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong” About… Joker," addresses the controversy surrounding the film's review scores. This piece delves into the differing opinions and debates about the movie "Joker."

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Rotten Tomato"

Here are some alternative phrases that convey a similar idea:

  • Flop
  • Dud
  • Missed the mark
  • Failure
  • Letdown
  • Bust
  • Washout
  • Disappointment
  • Non-starter
  • Downer

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Rotten Tomato":

  • What does "rotten tomato" mean?

"Rotten tomato" literally refers to a tomato that has decayed and is no longer fresh. Figuratively, it's used to describe something that is poorly received or of bad quality.

  • How can I use "rotten tomato" in a sentence?

You can use it to describe something that didn't meet expectations. For example: "The movie was a real rotten tomato, I wouldn't recommend it." or "I found a rotten tomato in my salad.

  • Why do people throw rotten tomatoes?

In the past, audiences threw rotten tomatoes at performers on stage as a sign of disapproval or dissatisfaction with the performance.

  • Is "rotten tomato" used in modern slang?

Yes, especially in the context of movie or show reviews. A "rotten tomato" review means the movie or show wasn't well-received.

  • Can it be used in written form?

Yes, "rotten tomato" can appear in written reviews, articles, or stories to describe something of poor quality.

  • Is there a website related to this term?

Yes, "Rotten Tomatoes" is a popular website that provides movie and TV show reviews. A "rotten" rating indicates negative reviews.

  • How did the term evolve in pop culture?

Over time, the act of throwing rotten tomatoes became symbolic of criticism. Today, it's used more metaphorically to express disapproval or disappointment.

  • Is it used globally or just in specific regions?

While the literal meaning of a decayed tomato is understood globally, the figurative use, especially in the context of reviews, is more prevalent in English-speaking regions.

  • Can it be used in a positive way?

Typically, "rotten tomato" has a negative connotation. However, in playful or sarcastic contexts, it might be used in a light-hearted manner.

  • Does it have any synonyms?

Figuratively, synonyms might include "flop," "dud," or "failure." Literally, it simply refers to a spoiled tomato.

Final Thoughts About "Rotten Tomato"

The term "rotten tomato" has evolved from its literal meaning to a figurative expression of disapproval in pop culture. It's especially relevant in entertainment reviews but can express disappointment in various situations.

Here's a quick recap:

  • It describes something of poor quality or something that's not well-received.
  • It's commonly used in movie and show reviews.
  • The term has historical roots in expressing audience disapproval.
  • While it typically has a negative connotation, context can change its tone.

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