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Language Interference
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Focus on Language Awareness: Pragmatics
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New word of the month
'I know how to spell banana,
but I don’t know when to stop!'

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New word of the month
by Kerry Maxwell

banana problem noun
a situation of uncertainty about when a task is complete and therefore when to stop working on it

The term banana problem is often used in computing when talking about badly written or incorrect conditions for the termination of a computer program. It has also been applied in website development, referring to a situation in which a designer adds so many different features that the whole thing looks messy, eg: ‘If you insist on adding that video clip, I’m afraid we’re going to have a real banana problem on our hands.’


The term originates from the story of a little girl who said ‘I know how to spell 'banana', but I don’t know when to stop!’

In the computing world reference is often made to a one-banana problem, a phrase which looks similar but in fact has a completely different meaning. This term derives from the idea that those with less-skilled jobs in the IT industry, such as computer operators, can be compared to monkeys, and incentives given to monkeys (bananas) can be used to describe the level of difficulty of a task. A one-banana problem is therefore the simplest, eg: ‘It’s only a one-banana job’. two- and three-banana problems would constitute more complex activities.