A word is a creation that we, as humans, use to label things and string together to communicate with each other. The word apple can be cut down to its core to reveal much more than its generalized, common-sensical plainness. Why apple? Such a simple, plain, two syllable word that can yet, describe so much. Why did Steve Jobs use the word “apple” to name his technology company? Why are Adam and Eve picking an apple in Genesis? Why did the falling apple inspire Sir Isaac Newton to solve the physical mathematics of the solar system? It can be used as a food, but also as a weapon (if thrown hard enough). You can use it to make juice – one of its more popular uses – and transform it into alcohol to feed your weekend adventures. So many purposes for this simple little object that we English descendants call, the apple.
noun. fruit with red, yellow, or green skin with sweet-to-tart crisp white flesh.
noun. native Eurasian fruit widely cultivated in many varieties for its sweet edible flesh.
The word apple, like us, has evolved over time. We can use the origins of the word to discover why it is spelt a-p-p-l-e. In perspective, there is little reason to be found in determining this, but it can satisfy a yearning curiosity. To discover the origins of the word apple, we must respect the idea that many other languages define the fruity ball under a different word. For example; “pomme” (French), “apfel” (German), “manzana” (Spanish), “appel” (Dutch), and “mela” (Italian). Each of these words have distinct variances from one another which means they must derive from separate etymological backgrounds. Etymological is a mouth-full, but interestingly enough, it is a word used to describe the history and development of language. “Pomme” originates from the Latin word “pomum”, which was used by the Romans to refer to “all fruit”. An apple should not be confused with “all fruit” however, but in medieval times, there was no need to label every entity. Thus, oranges, peaches, and many other fruits, were placed under the same umbrella term as the apple; “pomum”. In contrast, modern Italy uses the word “mela” for apple which evolved from the Latin word “malus” – a synonym for “bad”, “evil” and “wicked”. But why, and how does an apple become associated with evil? Should we continue to trust the innocent looking fruit? Further investigation is required.
But why, and how does an apple become associated with evil?
Now we know the word “malus” is used to describe poor behaviour and evilness. It is also worth noting that the apple’s taxonomy (plant classification science) resides in the “malus” genus. That aside, in respect to the synonyms of malus, there must be a reason why the apple family became attached to it. Let’s consider the history of Europe. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, botanical nomenclature (scientific naming of plants) was in its infancy and botanists who influenced the subject could go wild with name selection. It was also during this time when Christianity was gaining strong influence in the region and many of these botanists had religious backgrounds. Take the father of taxonomy for example, Carl Lianeus; who was being groomed as a priest prior to effectively inventing botanical nomenclature as we know it today. Christianity has been a powerful influence for humans and some biblical stories have completely shaped our way of thinking. Adam and Eve for example, is everyone’s go-to story for those who know little about the bible. Amidst this story is reference to a legendary “Forbidden Fruit” which grew in the Garden of Eden on the “tree of knowledge and evil”. As the story goes, God told Adam he could till the garden but was to avoid the Forbidden Fruit at all costs. However, God also created an evil serpent who misleads Eve into eating the sacred fruit and sharing it with Adam. God, as expected, was heavily disappointed by their actions and banishes them for life from the beautiful garden. Consuming the malevolent fruit also gave Adam and Eve the ability to produce destructive thoughts such as shame and evil, or, if we spoke Latin; malus! I say again, malus! The genus for apple! Was the Forbidden Fruit an apple? Popular religious culture believes so, but the real answer is in the mind of God – which we will likely never get access to. We can, however, confidently conclude that the “malus” genus was inspired by the Forbidden Fruit.
Although the naming of apple’s genus was inspired by biblical events, the name apple is not associated with religion. Instead, it comes from the German (Anglo Saxon) word “apfel”. Etymologically, this makes sense because the English language is a by-product of West Germanic and was also named after a tribe called the “Angles” – a colonial German tribe who migrated to England in the 5th century. Thinking back to the Latin word “pomum” (all fruit), classical German’s also used “apfel” to describe all fruit, but its etymology is relatively foggy. No one really knows why the German’s decided to use this word for the apple so it’s difficult to explore the question further. We will leave that question up for debate!
To be continued…
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