Idiom origin: why do we say ‘apple of my eye’?

We share the origin of the idiom ‘apple of my eye’ and what it means.

apple of my eye graphic

Colloquially, we use the idiom ‘apple of my eye’ when we’re talking about someone who is especially dear to us – someone we hold in higher regard than anyone else. But did you know that before the phrase was used to describe a person we love, it was used as an anatomical term to describe a part of the body?

‘The apple of the eye’ was first used in an 885AD reprint of the book Pastoral Care, a treatise attributed to King Alfred the Great of Wessex, which laid out the responsibilities of the clergy. ‘Apple’ was originally used to refer to the pupil or “aperture at the centre of the human eye”, because both are round.

The phrase can also be found in a number of other classic texts, including in King James’ 1611 version of the Bible and in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written in the 1590s.

“Flower of this purple dye

Hit with Cupid's archery

Sink in apple of his eye”

While the phrase can be recognised in these aforementioned early sources, it became more widely used following the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s novel Old Mortality in 1816.

“Poor Richard was to me as an eldest son, the apple of my eye.”

It is likely that both Shakespeare’s and Scott’s uses of the phrase help to popularise it and turn it into the idiom we use today

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