[Ads-l] Antedating of "How Do You Like Them Apples?"

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 6 22:45:14 UTC 2019

I have a post about the expression on my blog.


I added the 1895 reference in an update to that post in 2016 (towards the end of the post).

"Them apples" was frequently used as an example of a common grammar mistake in English textbooks for nearly a century before the full expression became popular during WWI.
From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Baker, John <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM>
Sent: Tuesday, August 6, 2019 3:26:30 PM
Subject: Antedating of "How Do You Like Them Apples?"

---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       "Baker, John" <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM>
Subject:      Antedating of "How Do You Like Them Apples?"

Arnold Zwicky has a discussion of this rhetorical question on his blog toda=
y, https://arnoldzwicky.org/2019/08/06/gloating-over-them-apples/, and it r=
eminded me that I had looked at its origin some years ago.  I decided to ta=
ke another look.

As I posted in 2012, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2012-=
July/120471.html, the origin appears to be a sort of standardized grammar e=
rror, which took the form "I like them apples" or "I don't like them apples=
."  The student was supposed to correct the error.

Some people had supposed that "how do you like them apples?" derives from t=
he use of "toffee apples," a British term for a kind of anti-tank mortar us=
ed in World War I.  That's an unlikely theory on its face, since "how do yo=
u like them apples?" appears to be American and, as Jonathan Lighter pointe=
d out, there is no evidence of American usage of "toffee apples" during tha=
t period.

The OED has the phrase from 1924.  In my 2012 post, I cited an example from=
 1919, in a company history of World War I.  Here are two earlier examples =
from Newspapers.com.

>From The Bryan (Tex.) Eagle, Sept. 26, 1895, as part of an article about th=
e many attractive aspects of Bryan:  "Bryan is the best cotton market in th=
is section of the state and has received more cotton than any other town in=
 this section.  How do you like "them apples?""

>From The Ogden (Utah) Standard, July 8, 1918, in a letter from a member of =
the American expeditionary force, mail service branch:  "As to the war, you=
 probably know more about it over there than we do - and besides, we are no=
t allowed to write very much about it.  It is par bon.  How do you like tha=
t French - or, as they say over here, 'How do you like them apples?'"

So the phrase dates at least to 1895, but seems to have become more popular=
 among American soldiers serving in World War I.

John Baker

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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