Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Episode 123: Apple of My Eye Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 123: Apple of My Eye

Record Date: September 5, 2021

Air Date: September 8, 2021



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Every week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Dan, do you remember the cuppycake song? 


According to Collins Dictionary, quote:  

“If you say that someone is the apple of your eye, you mean that they are very important to you and you are extremely fond of them.”

Some claim that this was originally used to say the pupil of the eye. And there is truth to that. Here is the OED’s definition: 

6. More fully apple of the eye. 

 a. The pupil of the eye, originally thought to be a solid, spherical body. Occasionally also: the iris and pupil, or the whole eyeball. Now historical.

Our first attestation is by King Alfred of Wessex. He lived from about 848-899 CE. He was King of the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons. 

eOE King Ælfred’s Boethius is an Old English translation/adaptation of the sixth-century Consolation of Philosophy This translation was completed around 870-899. The original text - The Consolation of Philosophy - was written in 523 during a one-year imprisonment Boethius served while awaiting trial—and eventual execution—for the alleged crime of treason under the Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great.

Se godcunda anwald gefrioðode his deorlingas under [his] fiðra sceate, & hi scilde swa geornlice [swa] swa man deð þone æppel on his eagan.

“of [godlike or divine] [power or strength] ... his [darlings or favorites] under his wings [bosom or corner or nook] [carefully, diligently, or desirable] as man does/done the apple of his eye. 

The phrase was seen again c1300 in A volume of vocabularies attributed to Thomas Wright. This work was done by Walter of Bibbesworth (1235–1270) who was an English knight and Anglo-Norman poet. The excerpt simply says,

La prunele, the appel of the eye. 

c1350 Psalter (BL Add. 17376) in K. D. Bülbring Earliest Compl. Eng. Prose Psalter

Kepe þe appel of þyn eȝe [L. pupilam oculi tui].

I’ve included a few more here so we can track this through the centuries and see that it was still being used. Here is one from the 1500s. I’m not sure what exactly they are referring to… I have a guess, but it’s a little eugh. 

1584 Richard Hakluyt · Discourse on Western Planting

If you touche him in the Indies, you touche the apple of his eye.

In 1607 in Cupids Whirligig by Edward Sharpham, we have a nice example. But I have to share Mr. Sharpham’s title, because it is excellent! He was a Playwright and pamphleteer. 

[A lady] that shall nourish no blood but your owne, tender your reputation as the apple of her eye, & honour euen your verie footsteps.

1693 John Bancroft Henry II

He can't live without you. You're the Apple of his Eye, the Joy of his Heart, the Lamp of his Life.

I like this next quote as well. The phrase apple of one’s eye is being used in many of these examples to say that someone is more than simply important to the person. They are almost... essential. 

a1767 Michael Bruce’s Poems on Several Occasions 

His daughter beautiful and young..The perfect picture of her mother's youth, His age's hope, the apple of his eye.

1815 Virginia Argus. [volume], September 13, 1815, Image 1

About Virginia Argus. [volume] (Richmond, Va.) 1796-1816

Here we have excerpts from a letter written by a Mr. WM Cobbett to certain gentlemen in Albany who had recently gifted him a fine suit. There is mention of the suit otherwise in the letter, but I’m not really including that bit. 

Near the beginning of this piece, he writes, quote: 

-End Quote. He seems pretty confident in his wisdom. He spends a good bit of the next sections of the letter discussing various aspects of forms of government, remarking on land and titles ...

I think it is significant the number of well-known names who’ve used this phrase. Here is another name we may find familiar… 

1816 Sir Walter Scott · Tales of my landlord

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

Scott was a Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright, and historian. He wrote the novel Ivanhoe in which the Saxon protagonist, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, is out of favour with his father for his allegiance to the Norman king Richard the Lionheart. The story is set in 1194, after the failure of the Third Crusade, when many of the Crusaders were still returning to their homes in Europe. 

1877 Wilkes’ Spirit of Times. This work has various titles, but I feel the longer version actually gives us some context. The Spirit of the Times: a chronicle of the turf, agriculture, field sports, literature and the stage It has been considered to be the premier American sporting journal of the 19th century. George Wilkes was the editor. 

Col. Gildersleeve has lost his valuable setter dog Don, which animal was the apple of his eye.

Here is one that shares the phrase and we are now discussing aspects of life as opposed to people. 

1884   Harper's Magazine 

He was a master of his profession, and his journal was to him as the apple of his eye.

I love this next one! Here we have a poet from the 1930s who shares some truth. 

The Georgiad By Roy Campbell · 1931

Before we move on to our modern uses, we’d like to take a quick moment to say thank you to our sponsors. 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons. 

Bunny Trails is and will always be free. But we are only able to make this content because of the awesome support of our Patrons like Pat Rowe and Mary Halsig-Lopez. 

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Modern Uses

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a different usage that is very common, particularly in the late 1900s…. Enter the 1980s and the world of the Material Girl… or well, human. 

1987 Rohinton Mistry · Tales from Firozsha Baag

He parked his 1932 Mercedes-Benz (he called it the apple of his eye) outside A Block.

1995 Children’s Song You’re My Honeybunch from the album Balloons by Buddy Castle 

You're my Honeybunch Sugarplum


You're my Sweetie Pie

You're my Cuppycake

Gumdrop Snoogums-Boogums

You're the Apple of my Eye

And I love you so and I want you to know

That I'll always be right here

And I love to sing sweet songs to you

Because you are so dear

The movie Apple of My Eye came out in 2017. This is a good ole family film.

A young girl struggles after a traumatic horse riding accident causes her to lose her eyesight. Charles, the head trainer of Southeastern Guide Dogs, trains Apple, a miniature horse, to be her companion and surrogate eyes.

Released in 2019 is the book Apple of My Eye by Claire Allan

Just how far is a mother willing to go?

When a mysterious note arrives for six months pregnant Dr Eliana Hughes, she begins to doubt every aspect of her life – from her mixed feelings about motherhood to her marriage to Martin, who has become distant in recent months.

As the person behind the note escalates their campaign to out Eli’s husband as a cheat, she finds herself unable to trust even her own instincts, and as pressure builds, she makes a mistake that jeopardises her entire future.

Elsewhere, someone is watching. Someone who desperately wants a baby to call their own and will go to any lengths to become a mother – and stay a mother…

Finally, the internet would not be complete without it… we have a beautiful blue-eyed cat photo shared on Twitter. 

Wrap up…

I love this phrase. I love most of them, I suppose. But this one is just sweet and happy and it’s all about love. And we kinda need more of that in the world. 



That’s about all the time we have for today. If you have a pop culture reference we should have mentioned, we’d love to hear about it! Reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website - Of course, the best way to make sure we see your comment is to post it on the Patreon page! 


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Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 


Words belong to their users.


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