Apple of my eye

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The phrase apple of my eye refers to something or someone that one cherishes above all others.[1]


The Bible references below (from the King James Version, translated in 1611) contain the English idiom "apple of my eye." However the "apple" reference comes from English idiom, not biblical Hebrew. The Hebrew literally says, "dark part of the eye." The Hebrew idiom also refers to the pupil, and has the same meaning, but does not parallel the English use of "apple."

The earliest appearance of the term is found in King Alfred's writing in the ninth century AD. Originally this term simply referred to the "aperture at the centre of the human eye" viz. the pupil. [2] This appears to be the meaning Shakespeare used in his 1590s play A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the play, the fairy character Robin Goodfellow has acquired a flower that was once hit by Cupid's arrow, imbuing it with magical love-arousing properties, and drops juice of this flower into a young sleeping man's eyes, saying "Flower of this purple dye, / Hit with Cupid's archery, / Sink in apple of his eye".

It also appears in the King James Bible translation from 1611:

  • Deuteronomy 32:10: "He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye".
  • Psalm 17:8: "Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings".
  • Proverbs 7:2: "Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye".
  • Lamentations 2:18: "Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease".
  • Zechariah 2:8: "For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye".

The original Hebrew for this idiom, in all but Zechariah 2:8, was 'iyshown 'ayin (אישון עין). The expression refers to the pupil, and probably simply means "dark part of the eye" (other biblical passages use 'iyshown with the meaning dark or obscure, and having nothing whatsoever to do with the eye). There is, however, a popular notion that 'iyshown is a diminutive of "man" ('iysh), so that the expression would literally mean "Little Man of the Eye."

If the latter interpretation is adopted it would be very much like the Latin version, pupilla, which means a little doll, and is a diminutive form of pupus, boy, or pupa, girl (the source also for our other sense of pupil to mean a schoolchild.) It was applied to the dark central portion of the eye within the iris because of the tiny image of oneself, like a puppet or marionette, that one can see when looking into another person's eye. In the Old Babylonian period (c. 1800-1600 BC) in ancient Mesopotamia, the expression "protective spirit of the eye" is attested, perhaps describing the same phenomenon.

In Zechariah 2:8, the Hebrew phrase used is bava 'ayin (בבה עין). The meaning of bava is disputed. It may mean "apple"; and if so, the phrase used in Zechariah 2:8 literally refers to the "apple of the eye." However, Hebrew scholars generally regard this phrase as simply referring to the "eyeball" (E.g., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary: Apple (section 6 B) "the particular object of a person's affection or regard
  2. ^ "Apple of one's eye". The Word Detective. Retrieved 15 August 2015.