Apples Flavor the Language, Too

By Grant Barrett
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 13, 2006

An apple is more than the seed of man's original sin. In American English, it's also a baseball, a basketball and a badly rolled bowling ball; a regular person, a fool and a sucker. Read on:

· Apple of one's eye "Apple" as a cherished person or thing dates to around 885 -- and is rendered as early as 1535 in recognizable English as "the aple of his owne eye."

· Rotten to the core/rotten apple "Rotten apple," meaning "a person of ill will or manners," dates to at least 1887, but it's most likely from the phrase "one rotten apple spoils the barrel." John Northbrooke, in his 16th-century treatise against gambling and dancing, put it this way: "A peny naughtily gotten . . . is like a rotten apple layd among sounde apples."

· Apple-pie order The 1998 Cassell's Dictionary of Slang says the most likely origin of this centuries-old expression, meaning organized, is a mispronunciation of the French nappe pliée , meaning "folded linen," which suggests wrinkle-free order.

· Upset the apple cart With more than 200 years of recorded usage, it's no wonder this idiom meaning to ruin a plan was already a cliche by the early 1900s when famed English aviator and motorist Charles S. Rolls (co-founder of Rolls-Royce) could joke in speeches across America about how his newfangled automobile upset an actual apple cart and horse in London's Strand.

· Applesauce. A slang noun for nonsense, insincere talk or blarney since at least 1919.

Grant Barrett is editor and author of the Official Dictionary of Unofficial English (2006, McGraw-Hill) and editor of the Double-Tongued Dictionary at

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