Why Do We Say 'Apple Of My Eye?' Where Did the Expression Come From?

Posted on 19 Mar 2014 15:54

I have a confession to make before I present this video. This site is the Apple of My Eye. I know it may not be much to look at, but I truly enjoy the research journeys I go on to find out these interesting things about food history, food culture, food science, and more. Sure, sometimes it is tons of tedious work, but there is so often a moment of discovery when you discover something that doesn't meet your long-held expectations.

This particular piece of research was one of those, and, while the actual content of the video is short, the reading I did to prepare it was some of the most fascinating I've done for this site. Maybe you won't find this as fascinating as I did, but I'll bet what you thought was the origin of the idiom "Apple of my Eye" was mistaken!

Video Presentation

The passage below is a transcript of the video, hence the more informal wording.

What Does Apple of My Eye Mean?

I take it you know what we mean when we call someone the "apple of my eye" but in case you do not, it means someone who is precious, someone cherished. Our daughters, or sons we call the apple of our eye. Or our grandchildren. Or our significant other, our soul mate, as it were.

When you think the origin of this, it's kind of tempting to think, well, okay, maybe apples could be seen as precious. Maybe not everyone could get them. And so you might look on a loved one, you know, the same way you look on a precious piece of fruit. But then, of course, you have to ask, really? Apples? C'mon. Why not a diamond or even a piece of hard candy? It just doesn't really seem to fly. And it doesn't fly because that is NOT really the origin of the expression. It actually had to do with the eye itself, rather than something the eye looked on, or regarded as precious.

Origin of Apple of My Eye

First of all, we find this phrase "Apple of My Eye" or variations on it, in the bible, several times; such as God calling the Israelites the apple of His eye. However, it's important to know that these translations were English translations, and the bible did not actually originally use them. But the expression is still pretty old. It comes from a mistaken belief about anatomy.

See, people used to think that the pupil of your eye was not just round, but actually spherical, shaped, like any piece of round fruit. So, like an apple. Now, keep in mind, by the way, that the word apple has cognates in all the Germanic languages, and originally could refer to any type of fruit, not just the fruit we call apple today.

So, not only did they think that the pupil of the eye was an actual round ball, but that it was the center of vision and of extreme importance to our body, health, and well-being. Maybe they thought it was the seat of the soul, I don't know. But, it was, as you can see, regarded as precious you must protect it. And, we automatically shield our eyes by reflexively closing them and putting our hands up, ah, etc. when our eyes and face, are threatened.

Also, vision has traditionally been seen as the most important sense, even without this deeper importance placed on the pupil. So, this hard, round ball in the middle of your eye, shaped like a piece of fruit, and of such singular importance, was the "Apple of Your Eye." You valued it and protected it. Just like you cherish, guard, and protect your loved ones, whom you consider just as the apple of your eye.

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