I thought it’d be nice to start with quite a sweet sounding idiom – ‘apple of my eye’.
It brings about images of people thinking fondly and lovingly about their significant other, and holding them dearly in their heart.
What does ‘apple of my eye’ mean?
Roughly speaking, this is what ‘apple of my eye’ means – you would use it in the context of “s/he is the apple of my eye”, and you would be describing this person as being the most important to you above everyone else.
So where did this idiom come from? Why would the person you cherish the most be described as an apple, and why are they being held in your eyes? This is an important question – and one that I am going to explore!
‘Apple of my eye’ origins
I start with a rather straightforward explanation courtesy of Spoken English: Flourish Your Language, a book by Robert Carmen. Quite simply, the pupil of the eye was referred to as an “apple” in Old English, because of its resemblance to the round fruit. According to Carmen, the meaning of this idiom was derived from the notion that when a person looks at another, their reflection appears in their pupil; hence they are the “apple of their eye”. So far, so interesting.
After digging a little deeper into this idea, it appears there is more to this idiom than meets the eye (pun intended). Valeri R. Helterbran writes in Why Flamingos Are Pink: …and 250 Other Things You Should Know that early anatomists misunderstood the pupil to be a “hard, round organ”, which was actually believed to be the source of a person’s well-being. The similarity between the perceived physical attributes of the pupil and an apple meant that the pupil was literally thought of as an apple contained within the eye.
Investigating other sources, there are other insightful interpretations of this idiom. According to Verbivore’s Feast: Second Course: More Word & Phrase Origin (which is probably the best linguistic book title I’ve even seen), the pupil or “apple” of the eye is fragile and precious, and therefore needs to be protected to retain one’s vision. So metaphorically speaking, if someone was the apple of your eye, they would be as precious as your eyesight, and need to be protected as such.
Interestingly, there seems to be some discrepancy of when ‘apple of my eye’ was first used. It’s widely accepted that it originated from Old English (around 450 – 1100 AD), but there is mention that it was used as early as the ancient Greek period. That said, the earliest recorded use of ‘apple of my eye’ is 885, in Gregory’s Pastoral Care, a book associated with King Alfred the Great of Wessex. Other appearances of this idiom include Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream (written around 1594); “Flower of this purple dye, Hit with Cupid’s archery, Sink in apple of his eye.”, and in the King James Bible (1611); “For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.”.
Ultimately, it appears that there is agreement about the link between apples and eyes, but there are differing interpretations of where the idea behind ‘apple of my eye’ stemmed from, and when it was first used.
Spoken English: Flourish Your Language – Robert Carmen – 2010
Why Flamingos Are Pink: …and 250 Other Things You Should Know – Valeri R. Helterbran – 2007
Apple Delights Cookbook, Christian Edition: A Collection of Apple Recipes – Karen Jean Matsko Hood – 2014
Verbivore’s Feast: Second Course: More Word & Phrase Origins – Chrysti Mueller Smith – 2006
Every Day with the King’s English – Glen Scrivener – 2012
The Little Book of Clichés – Alison Westwood – 2011