Why do we say "An apple a day keeps the doctor away"?

Well-Known Expressions

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Meaning:

Eating fruit keeps you healthy.

Background:

According to 'America's Popular Proverbs and Sayings' by Gregory Titelman, the earliest recorded use of this expression is from an 1866 edition of the quarterly journal Notes & Queries (which, incidentally, is still published by Oxford University Press), which states: "A Pembrokeshire proverb. Eat an apple on going to bed, And you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread."

Given that we don't have any record of this expression further back in time, it is difficult to take it at anything other than face value; but perhaps it is worth noting that in Old English (the Germanic tongue of the Anglo-Saxons that died out in Britain around the middle of the 12th century) the word apple was used to describe any round tree fruit, so maybe it is not attributing special powers to apples but to fruits in general.

With that said, the apple has long held symbolic value. For example, in ancient Irish tradition the apple symbolized immortality; and many traditions have believed the apple to be a symbol of love and fertility, even the preferred food of the gods - if you cut an apple in half across the middle you'll see that the core forms the shape of a five pointed star, a shape that has been revered for millennia as having spiritual qualities.

Alphabetical list of expressions

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