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

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3 Answers

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
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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
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
@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
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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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