American speech is rich with colorful turns of phrase. Here is the history behind some popular apple sayings.
Adam´s apple: This physiological terminology sprung from the conception that the protuberance on a man´s throat was caused by a piece of forbidden apple from the Garden of Eden´s Tree of Knowledge lodged in Adam´s throat, rather than the thyroid cartilage of the larynx.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away: Derived from the old English saying, “Ate an apfel avore gwain to bed, make the doctor beg his bread,” the original author of this most popular apple saying has been lost to history. Today, the expression rings truer than ever, as our knowledge of apples´ many and myriad health benefits increases.
An apple for the teacher: We confess, we don´t know how this saying originated. (If you find out anything, let us know.) It probably harkens back to the “apple polisher.”
Apple eater: A term used to describe one who is easily led astray, its roots are found in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden.
Apple of my eye: This expression dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, when people conceived of the pupil of the eye to be, like the apple, a global object. The word itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon “aeppel”, which literally meant both “eye” and “apple.” In addition to providing the literal, vital sense of vision, the pupil was also regarded as the figurative "window" to the treasured secrets within each of us. Thus, the “apple of my eye” meant someone very beloved.
Apple polisher: The custom of “apple polishing” hails from the little red schoolhouses of yore. Young children whose math skills were less than exemplary sought to win their teacher´s favorite instead with a gift of a bright, shiny apple. Remember this ditty?“An apple for the teacher will always do the trick when you don´t know your lesson in arithmetic.”
As American as apple pie: Americans may profess to have invented this quintessentially American dessert, but history books trace pie as far back as 14th Century England. Pie-making skills, along with apple seeds, cam over with the Pilgrims, and as the country prospered the rather slim apple pie of colonial times became the deep-dished extravaganza we enjoy today. Through the 19th and early 20th centuries, apple pie became the symbol of American prosperity, causing one American newspaper to proclaim in 1902,“No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished.”
It is better to give than receive: A fourteenth-century version of this Acts 20 Biblical passage used apples symbolically: “Betere is appel y-yeue than y-ete” (better is the apple you give than you get.)
One bad apple spoils the whole bunch: First coined by Chaucer as, “the rotten apple injures its neighbors.”
The Big Apple: This nickname for one of our nation´s greatest cities, New York, dates from the 1930s and ´40s, when jazz jived in clubs across the country. The smoky clubs of New York City were the favorite hotspots of the likes of Charlie Parker and other jazz greats, and Manhattan soon became known for having “lots of apples on the tree” − that is, lots of places to play jazz.
Upper crust: In early America, when times were hard and cooking supplies were scarce, cooks often had to scrimp and save on ingredients. Apple pie was a favorite dish, but to save on lard and flour, only a bottom crust was made. More affluent households could afford both an upper and a lower crust, so those families became known as “the upper crust.”