top of page

Apple is not the only fruit


Yesterday I bought an apple from Wholefoods, my new go-to supermarket. Large, brownish-goldish speckled skin, an unusual looking piece of fruit. Back home I got out my knife to cut it and found it to be soft and juicy, more like a pear than an apple … and, looking it up on useful-online-google-images, (calling it a 'pear apple’) I found it is in fact an apple pear - duh - historically a Chinese import to the US, and now available with various colours and textures of skin and flesh.

It was quite delicious.

What useless but fascinating information one can gain by a quick search on the web. I know now that there are technical arguments why an apple is not a proper fruit at all - gasp - or, perhaps more accurately, is a false fruit. Real fruit is formed from the ovary of a flower, so, in the case of an apple or a pear, the core, which we usually throw away, is the true fruit; the flesh we eat grows from the stem (thalamus). (Oh la, now you know too).

But what interests me more than the scientific technicalities is the linguistic background to the word apple. Cut and paste from

Word Origin and History for apple


Old English æppel “apple; any kind of fruit; fruit in general," fromProto-Germanic *ap(a)laz (cf. Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutchappel, Old Norse eple, Old High German apful, German Apfel), from PIE *ab(e)l "apple" (cf. Gaulish avallo "fruit;" Old Irish ubull, Lithuanian obuolys, Old Church Slavonic jabloko "apple”), but the exact relation and original sense of these is uncertain (cf. melon).

In Middle English and as late as 17c., it was a generic term for all fruit other than berries but including nuts (e.g. Old Englishfingeræppla “dates," literally "fingerapples;" Middle English appelof paradis "banana," c.1400). Hence its grafting onto thunnamed "fruit of the forbidden tree" in Genesis. Cucumbers, inone Old English work, are eorþæppla, literally "earth-apples" (cf.French pomme de terre "potato," literally "earth-apple”). French pomme is from Latin pomum “apple; fruit”.

(I LOVE etymology. You know, I use the dictionary every day of my life, for word definitions and origins, or for the enriching and enlarging stimulus of the thesaurus.)

Take that as you will (look it up - there is more!); I noted two things. Firstly, five hundred years ago the word ‘apple’ used to mean any fruit at all - in the technically least stringent way - and this might give me the freedom to extend my fruity ambition beyond 21st century apples in my 'Apple a Day’ project. This lets me of the hook a little, doesn’t it, when I’m just not hungry any more but have eaten a satsuma already today…?

Secondly, I have heard people dismissively judge 'ignorant’ others who have named Adam and Eve’s Eden fruit an apple: the bible 'quite clearly only calls it a fruit’. I’m not sure what difference that makes to the price of bread (or anything in the grocery basket) in any case, but can we now treat it with more grace? When the bible was first translated into English the two words 'apple’/ 'fruit’ were perhaps used identically. We just do not know what exciting new look or flavour tempted our ancestors.

I’m loving the new looks, scents, tastes in this particular Apple.


bottom of page