You are the Apple of My Eye

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Whether you love Valentine’s Day or think the day is a complete waste of time, there’s no denying that notions of love and heartbreak have inspired writers and artists for thousands of years. There are countless idioms associated with love: “…from the bottom of my heart”, “I have a crush on you”, “I’m head over heels in love”, and even “broken heart” – but today we’re going to look at the expression “apple of my eye”. In case you’ve forgotten, an idiom is a figure of speech which is used to describe something other than its literal meaning – so in this case, the expression isn’t referring to an actual apple in someone’s eye. If you’d like to read some of our other posts on idiom origins, click here or here.

If someone is the apple of your eye, it means that you love and value them over all others. The phrase doesn’t just apply to romantic love – people often describe their children (or even their pets!) as the apple of their eye.

The first recorded use of the phrase is from an Old English text Gregory’s Pastoral Care (from AD 885, and attributed to King Alfred the Great).

In 1611, an English translation of the Bible, known as the King James Bible, was completed for the Church of England, and the idiom appears multiple times within the text.

One example can be found in Psalms 17:8:

“Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings”.

Another example appears in Proverbs 7:2:

“Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye”.

The more literal translation of the original Hebrew that this phrase comes from would be: ‘Little Man of the Eye’, and refers to the reflection you see of yourself when you look into someone else’s eyes. This idea is comparable to the Latin ‘pupilla’, which means ‘little girl doll’ and it is from ‘pupilla’ that we derive the word ‘pupil’ which refers to both the dark, reflective part of the eye, and to a small school child.

Of course it’s not just the Bible that the idiom appears in – it’s no surprise that love-obsessed Shakespeare uses it too. The expression appears in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, a play all about lovers (and a play we’ve blogged about before - click here for a summary of the plot!). The Fairy King Oberon, when squeezing a love potion into a human character’s eye, says:

“Flower of this purple dye,
Hit with Cupid’s archery,
Sink in apple of his eye.
When his love he doth espy,
Let her shine as gloriously
As the Venus of the sky.
When thou wakest, if she be by,
Beg of her for remedy”.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is thought to have been written between 1590 and 1596 – certainly not long before the King James Bible was completed. The first recorded performance of the play took place on 1st January 1605.

The phrase later appears in Sir Walter Scott’s 1816 novel Old Mortality: “Poor Richard was to me as an eldest son, the apple of my eye”, and is still widely used today.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Avani Shah

13 Feb 2014
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