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The person with the most authority, power, or influence in a group or organization. Primarily heard in US. When I was top banana of the business, I used to charge the most outrageous things to the company credit card. You'll only get a truthful answer if you manage to talk to one of the top bananas.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
Also, top dog. The principal person in a group, organization, or undertaking, as in His plan was to be top banana within ten years, or Now that she's top dog you can't get hold of her at all. The first term comes from show business, where from the early 1900s it has signified the leading comedian (possibly the original allusion was to Frank Lebowitz, a burlesque comedian who used bananas in his act). It also gave rise to second banana, for a supporting actor, usually a straight man. Both were transferred to more general use in the second half of the 1900s, as in executive Peter Barton's statement, "There is a certain pain to being a second banana, but you have to have an ability to sublimate your ego," quoted in The New York Times, May 15, 1996. The variant, top dog, originated in sports in the late 1800s and signified the odds-on favorite or winner in a contest; it alludes to the dog who wins (comes out on top) in a dogfight.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
top bananathe most important person in an organization or activity. informal, chiefly North American
The two expressions above originated in US theatrical slang. The top banana was originally the comedian who topped the bill in a show, while the second banana was the supporting comedian.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
1. n. the lead comedian in a burlesque or vaudeville act. The top banana didn’t show up for the gig.
McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
The main leader of an organization or undertaking, the chief. Top banana comes from vaudeville, where the term denoted the starring comedian. Possibly it originally alluded to an individual who used bananas in his or her act. The 1954 film Top Banana, starring Phil Silvers, features a television comic and uses a great many vaudeville jokes. (A related term is second banana, for a supporting comedian, usually the straight man. However, it has not been as widely extended to other venues and cannot be considered a cliché.) Top dog came from sports in the late 1800s and alluded to the dog who wins in a dogfight (emerges on top); it was quickly extended to the winner or favorite in other competitions, and eventually simply to the principal leader.
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
Headliner comedian in a vaudeville show. The phrase is said to have originated with a vaudevillian named Harry Steppe in 1927 from a skit in which three comics tried to figure out how to share two bananas. Steppe also claimed to have first used “second banana” to refer to the cast's number two comic. Comedian Phil Silvers popularized the phrase “Top Banana” when he used it as the title of his Broadway musical and movie.
Endangered Phrases by Steven D. Price Copyright © 2011 by Steven D. Price