Coined by God: “Apple of His Eye”

CoinedbyGod-MallessFor our “Word Wednesday” feature today, we return to a new word book I recently received – Coined by God: Words and Phrases That First Appear in the English Translations of the Biblethe combined work of Stanley Malless and Jeffrey McQuain (W.W. Norton, 2003).

Our selection today is the expression “apple of his eye”, about which Malless and McQuain have this to say:

     Not every biblical phrase has come into English directly from the Bible. An indirect coinage, for instance, is apple of his eye, which appears five times in the Old Testament. Tyndale offers its first in translating words that Moses speaks about God’s connection to the patriarch Jacob: ‘he led him about, and gave him understanding,and kept him as the apple of his eye‘ (Deuteronomy 32:10). Five years later, Coverdale’s 1535 Bible uses the expression in translating Zechariah, who reminds the Children of Zion that they are the Lord’s chosen people: ‘Who so toucheth you, shall touch the apple of his eye‘ (Zechariah 2:8).

Hundreds of years before that, though, the phrase was already introduced into Old English by King Aelfred. In the ninth century, he translated ‘Gregory’s Pastoral Rule,’ a guide for church government, and turned the Latin phrase into English. Eight centuries later, the poet John Milton identified the apple as the fruit of Adam and Eve’s downfall. Although the human anatomy does include a throat projection known as an Adam’s apple, the original fruit (bad, in Hebrew) in the Garden of Eden was generic. The King James translation of the Book of Genesis refers only to ‘fruit,’ without specifying ‘apple,’, much less ‘Red Delicious’ or Grimes Golden.’

So how did it become the fruit of favoritism in human vision? This ‘apple’ refers to the pupil of the eye, once believed to be a solid round body. Writers from Shakespeare to Sit Walter Scott picked up on this ancient belief that the eye’s center was solid like an apple…(pp.12-13).

Published in: on September 9, 2015 at 6:32 AM  Leave a Comment  

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