To Play Gooseberry
This phrase means to act as chaperon and be present when two lovers are together, and make sure that they observe the correct codes of conduct and morals. Courting couples cannot be blamed for agreeing with the saying that “two’s company, three’s a crowd” and so the unwanted third person was expected to say nothing of anything they either heard or saw. They may have occasionally strolled off, in gardens or the countryside, and presumably sought and picked cultivated or wild gooseberries. The gooseberry is the symbol of anticipation. When children asked where babies came from they were often told by embarrassed parents or nannies that they were found beneath a gooseberry bush. The explanation persisted into the 1920s as did the role of chaperon.
Words by Adam Jacot de Boinod, author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books and creator of the iPhone App Tingo, a quiz on Interesting Words