There is an expression in Malayalam -an Indian language- which translates into English as "a black ant in the heaven". It roughly means an intruder into one's privacy. It is particularly used to refer to a person who knowingly or unknowingly disturbs the privacy of couples/lovers by joining them when they wanted to be alone. This black ant may be one of their friends, but is unwelcome now in their private moments.

Is there a word or an idiomatic phrase to refer to such a 'black ant'? Or, is it understandable to the native ears the term "a black ant in/of the heaven"?


2 Answers 2


In the UK, somebody who tags along with a couple when they would rather be alone is playing gooseberry.

  • Exactly this is what a "black ant in the heaven does". So, can we call him a gooseberry player? May 1, 2020 at 11:38
  • @mahmudkoya no, you cannot. A gooseberry player would be somebody who plays a game called 'gooseberry'- like a footbal player plays football. He is playing [at being a] gooseberry- a gooseberry is very bitter fruit. So you can only say "he is playing gooseberry".
    – JavaLatte
    May 1, 2020 at 11:52
  • Good. I can advise a friend: don't play gooseberry with A nd B. Let them be alone, can't I? May 1, 2020 at 12:01
  • 1
    In Canada and the U.S., you would say that the unwanted person is "the third wheel" but it really only refers to someone who tags along (on an outing or comes into the home of) a couple who want to be alone - the particularly part of the original question. It is not so much the more general case of intruding into one's privacy.
    – michael
    May 1, 2020 at 12:43
  • Mahmud, you would just call him 'a gooseberry'. Play in this sense means play the part of. May 1, 2020 at 12:48

In the US we call this person a third wheel or fifth wheel, the idea being that a bicycle doesn't need a third wheel or a car doesn't need a fifth wheel. The usage dates to the 17th century.Some consider the term third wheel to be a corruption of fifth wheel.

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