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What exactly does this phrase mean and in which situations is it used?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

It is used as an expression of gloating when someone turns the tables on someone else. There is a good example in the movie Good Will Hunting, where Matt Damon's character (Will Hunting) gets a girl's phone number in a Harvard bar where he, coming from working-class South Boston, is, despite his extraordinary intellect, socio-economically out of his league and is insulted by the Harvard rich kid (Clark) whom he has bested — actually, destroyed — in an argument. On the street later he sees his rival for the girl's attention through a restaurant window. He goes up and raps on the glass to get the young man's attention, and the following dialogue occurs:

Will: Do you like apples?

Clark: Yeah.

Will: Well, I got her number. How do you like them apples?

It can also be used as an expression of surprise at a sudden turn of fortune.

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+1 for the movie reference! –  John Satta Jan 9 '11 at 15:39
    
It can also be used interchangeably with "well don't that beat all." –  Maxpm Jan 10 '11 at 6:26
    
@Maxpm- It most definitely cannot! –  Jim 8 hours ago

Robusto's answer does a good job explaining the meaning of the sentence, but for the sake of completeness, here's the origin of the phrase.

Apparently during the first World War, the Allies had an anti-tank grenade which was colloquially referred to as a "toffee apple" thanks to the appearance of its bulb:

toffee apple

In the John Wayne movie "Rio Bravo", one of the characters launches a "toffee apple" at the enemy lines and says the phrase "How you like them apples?" referring, of course, to the bomb. As movie phrases are wont to do, it entered popular consciousness as a boastful expression of triumph.

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+1 I didn't know that. I had always thought it was just an aggressive poseur asked when someone went about 'upsetting the apple cart'. –  Autoresponder Sep 12 '11 at 18:34
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Bit of a stretch that a phrase first documented in a 1952 cowboy film came from a WWI trench mortar –  mgb Sep 13 '11 at 2:33
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@Martin: I looked this up and found three or four independent sources backing up this origin story, and no other ones seriously put forth. –  Adrian Petrescu Sep 13 '11 at 5:31
    
This made me think of the standard US hand grenade of WW2, which had the nickname "pineapple" because the pattern of grooves cast into its body: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mk_2_grenade I'm pretty sure this has nothing to do with "them apples", though it seems it could have! –  Cyberherbalist Jul 10 at 22:17

This phrase appears in the Wizard of Oz in 1939, years before rio bravo. In the first scene with the Tin Man, a tree throws apples at him and says, "How do you like them apples!"

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Also in the Movie Chinatown (1974). J.J. Gittes (played by Jack Nicholson) says, "How do you like them apples" after talking on the phone with Miss Sessions (who earlier pretended to be Mrs. Mulwray). –  Jay 9 hours ago

An episode of Perry Mason ("The Case of the Sunbather's Diary" Season 1, Episode 17) has the phrase as "How do you like those potatoes?" A language book from the 1920s uses this version of the phrase in a setting that suggests the 'them potatoes' version was also popular: http://books.google.com/books?id=W9kRAAAAIAAJ&dq=%22how%20do%20you%20like%20those%20potatoes%22&pg=PA43#v=onepage&q=%22how%20do%20you%20like%20those%20potatoes%22&f=false

Looking through Google Books, both 'them/those apples' and 'them/those potatoes' seem to only go back to about the 1920s in print, but the earliest version being a 1919 book of military history where it's listed, without elaboration, amongst humorous stories and sayings. http://books.google.com/books?id=rndBAAAAYAAJ&dq=%22how%20do%20you%20like%20them%20apples%22&pg=PA148#v=onepage&q=%22how%20do%20you%20like%20them%20apples%22&f=false

This suggests the military origin of the phrase to be correct, though in use before it was said in any movie.

As for the meaning -- older versions tend to use it as an expression of surprise, akin to "How 'bout that!" or "I'll be!" Nowadays, however, it's most commonly used as an expression of gloating. (Person #1: "I got 20 points in the game!" Person #2: "Well, I got 200, so how do you like them apples?")

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