Origin of "Second Bite at the Apple"

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?

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.

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?

HA! I have stumped the teeming millions! :stuck_out_tongue:

Or more likely, no one really cares. :frowning:

Oh, please, please, does someone know this?

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?

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.

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:

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.

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:

Yes, from Mirriam Webster. But no, not bobbing. Ferget bobbing. :wink:
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.

Whenever I hear the phrase, I always think of the Disney animated story of Johnny Appleseed . 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. :slight_smile:

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

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?) :wink:

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 [SUB]xash isn’t from around here, you know[/sub].
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.

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? :slight_smile:

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?

“Who the heck is xash, anyway?”
Be afraid. Be very afraid. :eek:

What am I? Chopped liver? :slight_smile:

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

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.

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)?


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.


Well, Mangetout , you should know about eating cherries, since you “eat everything!” :stuck_out_tongue:

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.