We all know what apples are: firm, round fruit ranging from tiny crab apples to crunchy eaters to the big, floury cookers. But the word is a very old one, apparently brought here by the North Germans as apfel. In English it appears as pineapple and even oak apple, the galls of which were used to make ink. Further afield, we can find terms such as the apple of discord – a cause of envy and dispute, derived from the golden apple inscribed with ‘to the fairest’ thrown by Eris, god of discord, to Aphrodite, Pallas, and Athena. The apple of Sodom/Dead Sea apple was claimed by the ancients to be fair to look upon but turned to ashes when touched.
The Dutch call potatoes aardappels, or earth apples, suggesting the term extended to vegetables, or a vague group of edible plants. The pomegranate is an apple with many grains. The Italians call tomatoes golden apples, as the original imports were yellow. There is even a hybrid, pomato made by grafting a tomato plant onto a potato.
But the definition should be straightforward, as the apple was the fruit that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But this is a mistranslation.
I have been reading Ronald Blythe’s wonderful book Word from Wormingford in which he claims that William Tyndal remains more influential than any other English writer, Shakespeare included.” This is a huge claim. He continues by noting how he gave us “In the beginning was the word”, and is responsible for most of the Authorised Version of the Bible. His opening up the Bible to commoners was so radical he was martyred at the age of 42.
Blythe ponders how the apple got into Eden, as Tyndal described it merely as “the fruit of the tree… desired to make one wise”. Somehow it became an apple. Blythe blames St Jerome’s version of Genesis in which malum is used to mean both apple and evil. Malus is the Latin genus of apple, from which malicious is derived.