Phrase Origin..."How 'bout them apples?"

What’s the origin of the phrase “How about them/those apples?”

A co-worker recently used the phrase and said, “I don’t expect you to know that. It’s a quote from Good Will Hunting.”

Not only do I know the phrase, my dad was using it to mean “how about that!” or “what do you think about that!” since I was a kid, well before Good Will Hunting.

The only thing I’ve been able to find on the internet is that the phrase originated in the 20’s but no explanation as to its origin.

Any ideas?

It goes back at least to 1959, in the movie Rio Bravo,Walter Brennan’s character uses it:

I asked a friend the same thing a while ago. He seemed to think that it meant that the guy’s got big balls (meaning courage, of course). Here, in Toronto, during basketball games we used to have a commentator who would say, “onions, baby, onions!” and apparently(?) this has the same meaning. I’m not sure if this has any truth to it but it sounds reasonable to me and it’s purty darned funny to boot.

I was under the impression that the onions were supposed to go with the salami and cheese.

What seem to be the most prevalent explanation is offered here:

Certainly older than that; my grandmother, who was born in 1900, often used it, which fits with an origin in the 1920s.

I saw the “toffee apple” explanation, but since there is no definitive connection between the two other than “it could have been”, I am not giving it much credence.

We did this one in the last few years. I’ll go find it.

The phrase suddenly appears in 1927-8. It appears as both “How do you like them apples?” and “How do you like them grapes.”

I’ve never been able to find a good answer as to just what inspired it. But it pretty much is undiscovered before that time period.

When it comes to many questions about phrase origins, “it could have been” is often the best you can do. Hoping for an unquestionably definitive answer will just leave you hoping.

That would tend to discount the supposed WWI origin, then.

From here:

The connection is loose given the fact that “them apples” weren’t very good (at least how Dad used the phrase). I suspect this may become one of “them unanswerable questions.”

I think the phrase is as old as man himself. Pretty sure I read about it in the Bible.

And God saith to Adam and Eve as he tossed 'em out of the garden of Eden, “Whatta thee think of them apples?”

The SO says this a lot, and Rio Bravo comes on TCM quite frequently. Of course I used the phrase as a child.

Anything more solid than the ‘toffee apple’ theory?

I like it best in the construction:

“Hey, bud, do you like apples?”
[bad thing happens]
“How d’ya like them apples?”

Seems unlikely to be a WWI thing-- only the Allies had tanks in any number. (The Central Powers had… 20-ish tanks, that weren’t captured Allied tanks.) Unless the phrase was originally in German.

If it is from 1927, it could certainly be from interwar troops training with “toffee apple” mortars?

If grapes is the original, it may refer to Aesop’s “The Fox and the Grapes.” This would have the right connotation of being undesirable.

I’ve found a few examples of the phrase used in grammar tests, or as an example of incorrect usage.






(the phrase “how do you like them apples” apparently occurs in the book, but annoyingly doesn’t show on the snippet view)

These findings appear to be significant. The 1919 book is History of Company A, 307th Engineer Regiment, 82d Division, United States Army, and it’s available on Google Books in full text. “How do you like them apples?” is on page 148, in the reminiscences section, as one of several standalone humorous quotations. The book provides the previously missing link between the phrase and World War I. There is no reference to “toffee apples” or mortar, so the World War I link falls short of showing that this actually was the origin.

I think it’s also significant that “like them apples” had a pre-existing history as a sort of standard usage error, and I have little doubt that it was at least a contributing factor to the phrase’s humor and initial popularity.

There’s an excellent compendium where you can find the answers to most questions on the etymology of phrases: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable.

However, the first two citations simply appear to be discussing literal apples, not using any meaning similar to “how do you like them apples?”

‘How you like them apples?’ almost certainly doesn’t apply to having big balls, but here in Calgary, having [balls the size of] onions also refers to bravery or guts.

To get kind of literal, I suppose we’re looking for a situation where you expect something good (tasty apples) and it turns out to be something bad. Grenades that look like apples works in that context, but looks like the timing is off.

The Fox and the Grapes isn’t quite as good a fit for the phrase as he never attains the grapes. He only assumes they’d be sour because he doesn’t get them. The comeupance of the phrase doesn’t really apply.