Apples and oranges

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Still-life with Apples and Oranges by Dezső Czigány, c. 1910

Apples and oranges is a common English idiom. It is used to describe unlike objects or people.[1] One of the most well-known bits of popular wisdom in the English-speaking world is that apples and oranges cannot be compared.[2] The ability to tell apples from oranges is learned.[3]

The phrase is almost always used along with a warning that things in different categories cannot be compared,[4] or that the comparison is improper.[5]

History[change | edit source]

This idiom began as a comparison of "apples and oysters" in a book of proverbs published in 1670.[6] This idiom has become a marker in English-speaking culture.[7] Idioms are a common stumbling block for learners of a language.

Variants[change | edit source]

An apple and an orange

The idiom is not uniquely English.

In French-speaking Quebec, the idiom is comparer des pommes avec des oranges (to compare apples and oranges), In Europe, the French idiom is comparer des pommes et des poires (to compare apples and pears).[8]

In Latin America, the Spanish idiom is comparar papas y boniatos (comparing potatoes and sweet potatoes) or comparar peras con manzanas (comparing pears and apples).[8]

In British English, the phrase chalk and cheese means the same thing as apples and oranges.[9]

Comparison[change | edit source]

In order to compare anything, there needs to be a theory to be proven and framework for testing the theory.[10] Three basic questions come first:

  1. What are we comparing?[10]
  2. Are the subjects good for comparing?[10]
  3. Do the measures of comparison function in the same or similar ways?[10]

Scientific research[change | edit source]

The idiom has inspired scientific research projects. For example, the British Medical Journal published a study of red delicious apples compared with navel oranges. They were found to have many similarities.[11]

There are differences in nutritional value.[12]

Experiments at NASA Ames Research Center showed that apples and oranges decay at similar rates.[13]

Related pages[change | edit source]

References[change | edit source]

  1. Amer, Christine. 1997. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. p19
  2. Glenn, Patrick. 2007. Legal traditions of the world: sustainable diversity in law, p43.
  3. Fahle M. 2005. "Learning to tell apples from oranges," Trends in Cognitive Science. 9(10):455-7; excerpt, "sorting them into the correct perceptual categories. Without categories, apples could not be discriminated from oranges"; retrieved 2012-4-4.
  4. Heacock, Paul 2003. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms, p9.
  5. Nuala O'Sullivan, Nuala and Geraldine Woods. 2010. English grammar workbook for Dummies, p225.
  6. Amer p19, citing John Ray. 1670. A collection of English proverbs.
  7. Wulf, Steven J. 2008. A philosophical theory of citizenship: obligation, authority, and membership. p36
  8. 8.0 8.1 Barnett, William. 2011. Getting it wrong: how faulty monetary statistics undermine the Fed, the financial system, and the economy, p22.
  9. Barnett, p. 23.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Hofstede, Geert. (1998). "A case for comparing apples with oranges: international differences in values" in Values and attitudes across nations and time. p16
  11. Barone, James E. "Comparing apples and oranges: a randomised prospective study," British Journal of Medicine (BMJ). 2000 December 23; 321(7276): 1569–1570; retrieved 2012-4-4.
  12. RoadtoNutrition.com, "Orange juice vs. apple juice"; retrieved 2012-4-4.
  13. Improbable.com citing Scott. (1995). "Apples and Oranges -- a comparison," NASA Ames Research Center.

Further reading[change | edit source]

Other websites[change | edit source]