The Apple of My Eye
Food Expressions We Use All The Time
Without even realizing it, we often use food-related phrases, idioms, colloquialisms, expressions, or whatever you want to call them in everyday language. Sometimes we don’t think about the origins of these fascinating food phrases or how they became so conventional in the English language.
The other day, my daughter Maddie and I heard the food expression “the apple of my eye” and we wondered about its origin. We started to think about other food-related idioms and their etymologies (where the words came from). Maddie and I decided to find more and see if we could figure out how these commonly used food phrases came into existence.
The etymologies are pretty interesting, take a look at our list below. Maddie and I will be adding to this list as we find more.
Apple of My Eye
This expression means someone that is so precious to you that they rival your ability to see.
Way back when, people fallaciously believed that the eye’s pupil was a solid object and therefore referred to it as an apple. In fact, William Shakespeare used the phrase with this implied meaning in his play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, saying “Flower of this purple dye, Hit with Cupid’s archery, Sink in apple of his eye.”
The first use of the saying in Old English Is attributed to King Aelfred of Wessex in “Gregory’s Pastoral Care.” Its first usage in the modern English language is in Sir Walter Scott’s Old Mortality of 1816.
The word pupil comes from the Latin word pupilla, a diminutive form of the word pupus (“boy”) or pupa (“girl”) and was applied to the dark pigmented-center of the eye because of the tiny reflect image of the self one sees when looking deep into another’s eyes.
Bread and Butter
There are two meanings associated with this idiom. The first refers to your job or vocation and it comes from the thought that you can’t eat if you aren’t able to make a living. No job means no “bread and butter” on the table.
The second meaning refers to a couple that are the bread and butter together, meaning they can’t be separated. This comes from the notion that once butter is melted onto bread, it is nearly impossible to separate the two elements.
The expression was first used as an exclamation when two people walking side by side were momentarily separated by something coming between them. The earliest citation of this comes from The Federal Writer Project “Guide to Kansas” which was published in 1939, where “bread and butter” was described as an incantation among schoolchildren in the area.
One Rotten Apple Spoils the Whole Barrel
This means that the influence of one bad person can mess up or taint the entire group. The etymology is rooted in the science that an apple produces a gas, ethylene, that ripens the fruit. When a fruit is overripe or rotten, it produces more of this gas and spoils any of the other fruit in the barrel.
When you store fruits together, the ethylene each piece emits encourages the others around them to ripen further. It’s contagious. Quick tip: to ripen an avocado in a short amount of time, stick it in a paper bag with an apple overnight.
It really only takes a single apple to start a domino effect that will ruin the others in the bunch. The same is said to be true with people. Chaucer was quoted saying that a “rotten apple ruins its neighbors.” The proverb originally was “One mouse dropping ruins the whole pot of rice” but evolved over time.
This means phrase means a big deal or someone with fame and wealth. The big cheese can be the most influential or important person in a group, but it has often been used in a derogatory manner to refer to somebody self-important or vapid.
It came from England in the 19th century. The entomology is not 100% known, but some believe it has nothing to do with dairy products at all. There is the possibility that the saying came from someone mishearing the Hindi word chiz, meaning “a thing.” British colonialists might have picked up the term in India and adopted what they believe they had heard.
There’s no shortage of expressions involving cheese. For instance, one may be cheesed off (upset, annoyed, fed up), or someone may be cheesy (inauthentic, corny). But this particular expression specifically became a commonality with the British who would refer to someone as “quite the cheese” or “simply the cheese”
Sowing Your Wild Oats
Wild oats, or the “crop that one will regret sowing,” was first used in the 1560s, in reference to the folly of sowing these instead of good grain. Protestant clergyman Thomas Becon is attributed to have said a variation of this phrase first.
This exact phrasing was supposedly first said in 1952, and the expression means to pursue a useless endeavor. Farmers have long hated wild oats because they are a useless crop and hard to separate from cultivated oats.
Also, there is a sexual connotation attached to the idiom that implies that a young man is spreading his seeds without purpose. If a man sows his wild oats, he has a period of his life when he does a lot of exciting things and engages in non-monogamous, often elicit sexual relationships.
What’s Your Favorite Food Expression?
I’m interested in hearing some of your favorite food phrases so please let me know in the comments section below. If you know the etymology, go ahead and leave that too. If not, I’ll try to find out the history of the expression and post in.