PDA

View Full Version : Origin of "Second Bite at the Apple"


jgroub
11-11-2004, 06:44 PM
Attorneys often argue to a judge that the other side is trying to get "a second bite at the apple." This is used with the meaning that they had their shot at something, lost their shot, and now they're trying to get the same thing that they already lost, again. (Generally speaking, in the law, once the judge decides an issue once, that ends the discussion, unless, of course, you take an appeal.)

For example (unrelated to a judge), you get one shot to take a party's deposition. If you don't ask all the questions during the deposition, you're done, and too bad if you think of ten more questions as you leave the deposition. You don't get a second bite at the apple.

My question is: Why is getting a second bite at the apple a bad thing? It always takes me more than one bite to eat an apple.

My inclination is that it is biblical (something to do with Adam and Eve eating the apple), but I've been utterly unable to find anything on this.

What is the origin of this saying?

Colophon
11-11-2004, 07:28 PM
My question is: Why is getting a second bite at the apple a bad thing? It always takes me more than one bite to eat an apple.

It isn't a bad thing. If it was, why would they be trying to get it? Somebody who has missed an opportunity would like a second bite at the apple, because they feel that the apple has been snatched away after one bite.

jgroub
11-11-2004, 07:47 PM
Well, it's a good thing for the person who wants it, and a bad thing for the person who wants to keep the person from getting it again.

That's all well and good, but where does the phrase come from?

jgroub
11-14-2004, 02:19 PM
HA! I have stumped the teeming millions! :p

Or more likely, no one really cares. :(

Oh, please, please, does someone know this?

Grimpen
11-14-2004, 03:02 PM
What is the origin of this saying?

Interesting question. I don't have an actual citation to back this up, but I very much suspect it comes from the old game "bobbing for apples."

The idea is you've got a large tub of water, with apples floating in it. You are to get them with your teeth; no hands allowed. "A second bite at the apple" would imply that you'd gone in after one, came up empty (and dripping wet) and rather than letting that end your turn, went right back for a second try.

Anyhow, that's the direction I'd look for a possible origin. Needs checking, of course; though I don't know where you'd find verification. 19th century stories about rural young people?

Peter Morris
11-14-2004, 04:01 PM
The phrase was originally "You only get one shot at the apple" It comes from the story of William Tell.


Okay, I made that up. Sounded plausible, though, didn't it.

mangeorge
11-14-2004, 04:45 PM
My guess is that someone just made it up, and other law types thought it sounded good so they took it up. Professionals got to do something to put a little color in their otherwise boring lives. Look at the stock market people. They like to use "street" in their pontificating. "What's the street saying" for example. Or "What's happening on the street." Sound's cool :cool:, and those wuss' don't get much chance to say anything cool, so they say things like that.
So the phrase has nada to do with apples.
Now someone's sure to claim "street" refers to Wall Street. Yeah, right. :rolleyes:

samclem
11-14-2004, 05:04 PM
I can find a print cite which alludes to the phrase in 1900. And in a general context, not legal.
So, it was a generally known expression by that time.

Whether it was used in the law at that point or before, I can't as yet find.

mangeorge
11-14-2004, 05:35 PM
From m-w;
4 : to take hold of
Simple. They didn't get the apple on the first grab, so they're trying again. Remember, people talked funny back in 1900.
Sometimes being a genius is so lonely.

jgroub
11-15-2004, 12:40 PM
From m-w;

Simple. They didn't get the apple on the first grab, so they're trying again. Remember, people talked funny back in 1900.
Sometimes being a genius is so lonely.

Mangeorge - is that a definition of bite? If so, are you saying it's the apple bobbing situation? That makes some sense, but how the heck did that migrate to the legal world? The implication is that lawyers are just acting like 8 year olds, and . . .

Oh. Never mind. :smack:

mangeorge
11-15-2004, 07:05 PM
Mangeorge - is that a definition of bite? If so, are you saying it's the apple bobbing situation? That makes some sense, but how the heck did that migrate to the legal world? The implication is that lawyers are just acting like 8 year olds, and . . .

Oh. Never mind. :smack:
Yes, from Mirriam Webster. But no, not bobbing. Ferget bobbing. ;)
Have you never tried to jump up and grab an apple (or other fruit) off a tree? Then Farmer John yells at you, and you probably don't get a second chance. If you do, an observer could well say you're trying for a second "bite" at the apple.
Note that it says "at" the apple, not "of". Sorry, Eve. Not you, Eve, that other one. The dead one.
This saying originated back in the day, don't forget.

Pullet
11-15-2004, 07:18 PM
Whenever I hear the phrase, I always think of the Disney animated story of Johnny Appleseed (http://www.applejuice.org/johnnyappleseed.html) . Remember when they used to do those quasi historical bits? They had one of Paul Bunyon too.

Anyway, in that animation there was a scene of people playing a party game where an apple is dangled on string. Two people, coming from opposite directions, have to lunge and try to bite the apple simultaneously without using their hands. A sort of dry variation on bobbing for apples. In the scene, the michievous guardian angle pulls the apple away at the last minute from between Johnny and a pretty girl. Johnny ends up kissing the pretty girl.
I guess if the girl is pretty enough, you'd be real interested in trying that apple thing again. :)

The game is probably not the real origin of the phrase, but it works for this simple country chicken.

jgroub
11-15-2004, 07:19 PM
Mangeorge (BTW, are you Boy George all grown up?) thanks for the input, but it sounds to me like you are just talking out your ass. (Just a little bit?) ;)

You're making a distinction between second bite "at" the apple, instead of second bite "of" the apple. But using the M-W definition you found, you're saying you're getting a second hold at the apple, instead of a second hold of the apple. You don't go for a hold at anything, unless, maybe you're wrestling with the apple. The latter ("a second hold of") makes more sense, but goes counter to your definition.

Anyway, you're just arguing empirically, without any proof. I appreciate the effort and all, really, but anybody got some real etymology they can lay on me? Some OED quote or something authoritative like that?

Thanks anyway, Mangeorge.

mangeorge
11-15-2004, 08:34 PM
Mangeorge (BTW, are you Boy George all grown up?) thanks for the input, but it sounds to me like you are just talking out your ass. (Just a little bit?) ;)

You're making a distinction between second bite "at" the apple, instead of second bite "of" the apple. But using the M-W definition you found, you're saying you're getting a second hold at the apple, instead of a second hold of the apple. You don't go for a hold at anything, unless, maybe you're wrestling with the apple. The latter ("a second hold of") makes more sense, but goes counter to your definition.

Anyway, you're just arguing empirically, without any proof. I appreciate the effort and all, really, but anybody got some real etymology they can lay on me? Some OED quote or something authoritative like that?

Thanks anyway, Mangeorge.
Why you little.....
I'm tellin'
xash xash isn't from around here, you know.
Anyway, this newby. This guest. This non-OED subscribing ingrate...
Ah, hell, see for yourself.
And then it tries to mollify me with that last, insincere, sentence.
BTW; To grab at = to try to take ahold of. Now gimme that apple.

jgroub
11-15-2004, 08:43 PM
Mangeorge - Yup, I'm a stinkin' newbie, it's true. And I see from reading the boards (I did zero work today - yup, I mean I billed about 2 hours when I should've billed 10) that you're quite prolific. How respected you are in your answers . . . . well, I dunno.

Yeh, oops also on that last part. I was trying to make it in small type, like you did, like this:

Thanks anyway, Mangeorge.

I think the small type makes it look so much more sincere, don't you? :)

But I put it in size 4 (which I thought was 4pt type) and it came out all huge and insincere. :wally (That's putz me, not you.)

Who the heck is xash, anyway?

mangeorge
11-15-2004, 08:50 PM
"Who the heck is xash, anyway?"
Be afraid. Be very afraid. :eek:

samclem
11-15-2004, 10:02 PM
Anyway, you're just arguing empirically, without any proof. I appreciate the effort and all, really, but anybody got some real etymology they can lay on me? Some OED quote or something authoritative like that?


What am I? Chopped liver? :)

I gave you info that I found it in 1900, and not in a legal sense. I dont think the legal sense that you and I know today was its origin.

You originally said My inclination is that it is biblical (something to do with Adam and Eve eating the apple), but I've been utterly unable to find anything on this.
Almost certainly NOT Biblical. If it were, it would have shown up well before 1900 in some form.

Around the late 1800's-early 1900's, the phrase(and variants thereof) "to take a bite at/of the Apple," where apple was considered to be the ultimate prize, was rather common.

So, a second bite at the apple was merely getting a second chance at the ultimate prize.

Mangetout
11-16-2004, 04:49 AM
I wonder if there is any relation to the idiom to take two bites at the cherry (meaning something along the lines of applying considerably more effort to the pursuit of a task than is necessary)?

Bricker
11-16-2004, 05:21 AM
Attorneys often argue to a judge that the other side is trying to get "a second bite at the apple." This is used with the meaning that they had their shot at something, lost their shot, and now they're trying to get the same thing that they already lost, again. (Generally speaking, in the law, once the judge decides an issue once, that ends the discussion, unless, of course, you take an appeal.)




Just wanted to point out that if the judge has decided a motion in limine against you, you MUST object at trial to preserve any argument of error for appeal. That's not a "second bite," of course; I mention it only because of the "...once the judge decides an issue once, that ends the discussion..." comment above.

And as long as I'm nitpicking, even an appeal may not erase a decision. Obviously, if your appeal includes assignment of error to a particular ruling, and the appellate court agrees with you, the issue is revisited. But if a retrial is ordered on other grounds, decisions made in the first trial are the law of the case, and generally cannot be relitigated in a second trial.

jgroub
11-16-2004, 12:36 PM
Well, Mangetout , you should know about eating cherries, since you "eat everything!" :p

But seriously, I think you're right - I think the two sayings are somehow related. I believe I have heard "two bites at the cherry" used in a similar vein, although much less often.


However, Bricker, I am fully aware of the points you made. But note that I said "that ends the discussion." Not too much discussion with an objection, ya know. As for the appeal, I was only speaking generally. Of course an appeal may not erase the decision made; the appeal could be decided against you. But taking the appeal would certainly start the discussion up again.

samclem
11-16-2004, 08:29 PM
I wonder if there is any relation to the idiom to take two bites at the cherry (meaning something along the lines of applying considerably more effort to the pursuit of a task than is necessary)?

Bingo!

I can find that back as far as the 1850's. I'm not convinced that the meaning is what you suggest, but I'll try to find more.

mangeorge
11-16-2004, 11:26 PM
And I'm sticking with my apple tree theory. And the idea that the phrase was coined in the old days, and retains phrasing and color from back then.
So;
Ever seen a horse in an apple orchard, trying to eat apples that are still in the tree?
I have. They'll stand on their hind legs and s-t-re-t-c-h as far as they can. Biting at the fruit. And they don't give up easily. Horses love apples.
Those folks that sanclem mentions likely observed this behavior in their horses. People commonly liken human behavior to that of animals.

samclem
11-17-2004, 01:10 AM
And I'm sticking with my apple tree theory. And the idea that the phrase was coined in the old days, and retains phrasing and color from back then.
So;
Ever seen a horse in an apple orchard, trying to eat apples that are still in the tree?
I have. They'll stand on their hind legs and s-t-re-t-c-h as far as they can. Biting at the fruit. And they don't give up easily. Horses love apples.
Those folks that sanclem mentions likely observed this behavior in their horses. People commonly liken human behavior to that of animals.

Except, the expression, so far as I can find, is "second bite of/at the cherry" in 1850, and apples don't show up 'til 50 years later.

Celyn
11-17-2004, 08:08 AM
Interesting question. I don't have an actual citation to back this up, but I very much suspect it comes from the old game "bobbing for apples."

The idea is you've got a large tub of water, with apples floating in it. You are to get them with your teeth; no hands allowed. "A second bite at the apple" would imply that you'd gone in after one, came up empty (and dripping wet) and rather than letting that end your turn, went right back for a second try.

Anyhow, that's the direction I'd look for a possible origin. Needs checking, of course; though I don't know where you'd find verification. 19th century stories about rural young people?


19th Century? Um, we did that at home when I was a younger Celyn. Oh boy, I feel old and depressed now.

byw - I see that mangetout mentioned the "two bites at the cherry" thing, which, to be honest, is what I have heard as opposed to two bites at an apple. (But I am a foreigner and might therefore be odd.) :)

jgroub
11-17-2004, 12:15 PM
mangeorge[/B]]And I'm sticking with my apple tree theory. And the idea that the phrase was coined in the old days, and retains phrasing and color from back then.
So;
Ever seen a horse in an apple orchard, trying to eat apples that are still in the tree?
I have. They'll stand on their hind legs and s-t-re-t-c-h as far as they can. Biting at the fruit. And they don't give up easily. Horses love apples.
Those folks that sanclem mentions likely observed this behavior in their horses. People commonly liken human behavior to that of animals.

The problem with this theory mangeorge, is that it doesn't address the question of why the second bite at the apple is BAD!

The horse stretches up and eats an apple. It doesn't get it all the first time. It reaches again. So the horse was trying to get a second bite at the apple. Why is this a bad thing? If the farmer comes over and says, "Thief! Stop that horse! It's trying to get a second bite at the apple!" I think you would just have to laugh, because the implication is that the first bite was OK; it's this second bite that's the problem.

mangeorge
11-17-2004, 07:25 PM
Except, the expression, so far as I can find, is "second bite of/at the cherry" in 1850, and apples don't show up 'til 50 years later.
I doubt that the horses cared what year it was. ;)

mangeorge
11-17-2004, 07:29 PM
By the way, ]samclem, I was referring to your reply #17. Something in there about apples, anyway.

mangeorge
11-17-2004, 07:43 PM
One of your questions, jgroub, was what is the origin of the phrase. That's the one I tried to address. As to why lawyers wish to give the phrase a bad connotation, who know's? They're lawyers fer cryin' out loud!
The apple question has been answered. feel free to discuss the cherry question among yourselves.
;)
Has anyone asked Cecil, knower of all things worthy?

Mangetout
11-18-2004, 03:57 AM
Bingo!

I can find that back as far as the 1850's. I'm not convinced that the meaning is what you suggest, but I'll try to find more.
This (http://www.allwords.com/word-two%20bites%20at%20the%20cherry.html) site suggests that a second bite at the cherry is merely an additional and unexpected opportunity, but that doesn't actually make much sense (not that I'm insisting it must - this is just popular idiom, after all).

However, a cherry is a small fruit usually consumed in a single bite; to take two bites at a cherry (as far as I'm concerned) makes much more sense understood as To divide something too small to be worth dividing (http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/english/ch/cherry.html).

jgroub
11-18-2004, 11:52 AM
One of your questions, jgroub, was what is the origin of the phrase. That's the one I tried to address. As to why lawyers wish to give the phrase a bad connotation, who know's? They're lawyers fer cryin' out loud!
The apple question has been answered. feel free to discuss the cherry question among yourselves.
;)
Has anyone asked Cecil, knower of all things worthy?


You are correct, sir. My apologies.

But that just begs the question: why is the second bite at the apple, cherry, dunghill, whatever, bad?

KP
11-18-2004, 01:58 PM
My question is: Why is getting a second bite at the apple a bad thing? It always takes me more than one bite to eat an apple.

It's possible that this derived from (or resonated with) the hoary Englsh expression "two bites of a cherry" [meaning taking two bites where one should suffice] Quite a few English proverbs [and Biblical Proverbs in English translation] that now say "apple" were originally stated as "cherry".

From the etymology in definition 1.1B of "cherry" in the Oxford English Dictionary [2002 Electronic Edition]:
"... 1708 Motteux Rabelais v. xxviii, By Jingo, I believe he wou'd make three bits [1737 bites] of a cherry. 1869 in Hazlitt Eng. Prov. 39 A woman and a cherry are painted for their own harm. Prov. It is no use making two bites of a cherry.

Cherries were commonly used in proverbs because, apples (and pears) don't grow true from seed (fruit-bearing branches have to be grafted onto locally thriving rootstock), and therefore were not as widespread as directly edible food as they are today. In fact, until the Prohibition movement in the early 20th century, the primary use of apples in the US wasn't pie, but alcoholic beverages.

Yes, much of what you learned about apples in school was a lie. For example, see the informative SD Staff Report on "Johnny Appleseed (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mjappleseed.html) for more facts on apple cultivation. -- and "An apple a Day keeps the Docotr away"? It was a cynical marketing jingle, invented from whole cloth by the apple growers board when Prohibition killed their primary market.

Apples actually aren't particularly nutritious, as fruits go, and weren't valued (perhaps partly because of the Eden association). That is partly why you'll often see Depression-era cartoons of beggars selling apples and used pencils (i.e. nearly worthless cast-offs), and why it was used in slightly derisive terms like "wolf-apples" (tomatoes, back when they were believed to be poisonous), horse apples, and even pommes de terre (Fr. "apples of the earth" or potatoes)

There's talking out your ass, and there's talking out your ass with cites. I thought GQ was for the latter. If not, maybe I should put my pants back on.

KP
11-18-2004, 02:04 PM
Note to self -- read the *whole* thread before making a wiseass reply. And check the dates. (My apologies, I thought this was a recently created thread, and that I was at or near the end, when I dashed off the the OED to confirm my sudden theory, which, it turns out, the inestimable omleteer mangeorge beat me to.

jgroub
11-18-2004, 02:13 PM
It's possible that this derived from (or resonated with) the hoary Englsh expression "two bites of a cherry" [meaning taking two bites where one should suffice] Quite a few English proverbs [and Biblical Proverbs in English translation] that now say "apple" were originally stated as "cherry".

From the etymology in definition 1.1B of "cherry" in the Oxford English Dictionary [2002 Electronic Edition]:
"... 1708 Motteux Rabelais v. xxviii, By Jingo, I believe he wou'd make three bits [1737 bites] of a cherry. 1869 in Hazlitt Eng. Prov. 39 A woman and a cherry are painted for their own harm. Prov. It is no use making two bites of a cherry.

There's talking out your ass, and there's talking out your ass with cites. I thought GQ was for the latter. If not, maybe I should put my pants back on.


I do believe you've done it Magoo! :p A most awesome display of etymology. I am humbled and express many thanks.

About that talking out your ass business, I was having a little fun with mangeorge. I definitely don't think you are now that you've brought the venerable OED into it. Therefore, no re-pantsing necessary. Thanks again, and to everyone. Including mangeorge.

samclem
11-18-2004, 07:27 PM
Yes, much of what you learned about apples in school was a lie. For example, see the informative SD Staff Report on "Johnny Appleseed (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mjappleseed.html) for more facts on apple cultivation. -- and "An apple a Day keeps the Docotr away"? It was a cynical marketing jingle, invented from whole cloth by the apple growers board when Prohibition killed their primary market.

There's talking out your ass, and there's talking out your ass with cites. I thought GQ was for the latter. If not, maybe I should put my pants back on.

Since we're into cites, I have to pick a nit with Dex's column linked to above.

The saying "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" was NOT invented as a marketing jingle just before Prohibition. It's first cited in that exact phrase in 1900 thusly "An old saying has it that an apple a day keeps the doctor away." This from a Montana newspaper.

Also, from the good folks over at the American Dialect Society Mailing List, we find:

First found as a Welsh folk proverb (1866): "Eat an apple on going
to bed, And you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread."

mangeorge
11-18-2004, 08:15 PM
While idioms must, by their very nature, be taken with a grain of salt, I'm going to have to chew on KP's explanation for a while. That cherries to apples explanation will require a leap of faith for me to accept.
Does anyone happen to have a copy of Collins Cobuild Dictionary of Idioms handy? It would nice to a direct etymology, and a phrase as popular as the "apple" thing is surely listed somewhere.

C K Dexter Haven
11-18-2004, 09:17 PM
samclem and I are discussing the "apple a day" phrase... we may wind up amending the Staff Report....

KP
11-19-2004, 06:25 PM
I was only being semi-serious about that theory. My "ass" remark was meant to indicate that, but I was having a humor impaired day.

mangeorge
11-19-2004, 06:55 PM
KP, your statement that you can't grow an apple tree from seed didn't ring true with me, so I googled "how to grow apples". I got plenty of hits, most of which didn't address growing from seed. But the first (http://www.gardenersnet.com/fruit/apples/grow.htm) on the list said that you can, indeed, grow apples from seed, but didn't advise it.
Since this information is totally germain to the OP, please elaborate on your statement. I'm curious, not challenging. I suspect it has something to do with cross-breeding varieties of apple.
And don't you ever cast doubt on Jonny Appleseed again. ;)

KP
12-13-2004, 08:53 PM
I see that I phrased it badly. My original statement was:

"...apples (and pears) don't grow true from seed (fruit-bearing branches have to be grafted onto locally thriving rootstock), and therefore were not as widespread as directly edible food as they are today." (emphasis added)

To "grow true" is an agricultural term meaning "to have offspring with the same characteristics as the parents". Many plant varietals, especially hybrids, hand pollinated varieties or grafts will don't breed true. (Though it's not the best strict botanical example: there ain't no way a seedless orange is a-gonna grow true!

One classic example can be found in Mendel's classic experiments with peas. If you breed plants with two pure traits at the same gene [e.g. smooth vs rough, short vs tall, white vs red blossoms), the F1 hybrids will usually have some intermediate trait (e.g. wavy seeds, medium height, or pink blossoms). However they will not "grow true" completely. Breed a hundred red blossomed plants, and all the offspring will have red blossoms. Breed 100 pink blossomed F1 plants, and 25% of the F2 offspring will be white, 25% red, and 50% pink.

[Recent analyses suggest that Mendel fudged his numbers -- or was unreasonably lucky -- but his principles stand]

In the case of apples, the seeds of a juicy apple will almost never yield a tree with juicy apples, unless you just plain strike it lucky. Apple trees *will* grow from seed but the offspring will usually give almost inedible fruit. What Johnny appleseed (and modern growers) typically do is find a hardy rootstock -- a variety of tree that grows very well in the local conditions -- and graft branches from a variety that will produce luscious fruit if it is amply supplied with the resources of a thriving tree.

The seeds ONLY represent the genome of the fruit-bearing branch, so if you plant them in your backyard, it won't thrive to the degree necessary to produce that kind of fruit. It might trive only on some hilltop in Poland -- or, since experimental grafting has been used to produce commercial fruit stock for centuries, it may not thrive *anywhere*: the branch genome smay simply have terribly rootstock that wouldn't support a large tree [which may be why ist fruit over-develop when placed on bountiful rootstock). The grafters wouldn't care, since they'd be planning on discarding its roots and keeping only the branches anyway.

There are other qualities that make for a good producer, like sparse, thick, well-placed branches for machine or hand-picking, This can be 'tailored' at the time of grafting. It's faster than waiting many years per generation to breed those traits into a line. After all, a graft can take hold in a matter of weeks, and once it does, you'll get fruit for decades [and you can lop off the bad graft and try again isoon). That beats the heck out of waiting years to see if a tree "is a producer".

If you've been to an apple orchard, you've probably noticed that the size, age and grid of the trees is very consistent. There aren't too many "oddballs" that bore bad fruit and had to be cut down [and possibly replaced with a younger tree]. Grafting allows a high degree of man-made consistency.

I'm not saying that there are *no* varieties that can produce acceptable fruit and breed true in a wide range of climates and habitats, but any such fruit would be uncommon in the marketplace. Grafting consistently creates the exceptional producers required for the commercial market, where even a 10% advantage quickly rules. Combining the best traits from 2-3 proven mature plant lines simply has too many advantages over "breeding, planting seeds and hoping"

The next time you hear someone disparaging "Frankenfruit", remember that apple and pear orchards are veritable armies of true Franken-fruit, pieced together from the parts of different individuals! Even in "organic" orchards!

mangeorge
12-13-2004, 09:22 PM
Fascinating. Really. I love "Gala" apples, as a matter of fact.
But that's not what's meant by "frankenfruit".
Adding a mouse gene to corn is what's meant by that term. Many who object to frankenfruit are farmers who really appreciate what you describe.