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According to the following source the adage The apple doesn't fall far from the tree originated in AmE in the first half of the 19th century:

The first recorded use in the USA was by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1839, one of America's best known 19th century figures.

But they also add that:

Versions of this proverb can also be found earlier in works written in German and Russian; with some sources saying the expression originates in Asia. (www.bookbrowse.com)

As for its possible German origin, I could find the the following test from 1842 The Exercises for writing German - Page 14 by Johann Gerhard Tiarks - where they state that:

"The apple does not fall far from the stem," is a German proverb.

But what is more interesting, in A Dictionary of the Welsh Language, Explained in English dated 1803 under the term Avall (apple) they quote:

Ni fell zygwyz aval o avall; the apple will not fall far from the tree, (adage).

The Welsh quote is the earliest I could find, but it just seems to make my research more complicated.

So, where does the above adage really come from? Is is ultimately of Asian origin as suggested in one cited source?

Was its earliest usage in AmE as suggested, or does the Welsh dictionary proves otherwise a possible BrE first usage before it crossed the pond?

  • 2
    That doesn't look like Welsh. Did they use a different orthography back then? – Azor Ahai Jul 24 '18 at 20:05
  • @AzorAhai - the original source is available in the link. books.google.it/… – user067531 Jul 24 '18 at 20:08
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    It's mistranscribed. The Welsh says "Ni fell zygwyz aval o avall". That grammar appears to use z for /ð/ (modern orthography dd). So in a more familiar appearance, Ni fell ddygwydd afal o afall. – Colin Fine Jul 24 '18 at 22:56
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    The English attribute it to the Germans, the Germans attribute it to the Turks, and the Turks attribute it to the Russians, some dating it to at least a 1789 Russian-Turkish dictionary. I can't find evidence that the Russians attribute it to anyone other than themselve (at least, I can't find evidence using Google Translate and the sources easily available to me in the US). But at that point I don't think it's a question of English language and usage anymore. – 1006a Jul 25 '18 at 16:21
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    Wikipedia says Russian proverbs were collected as early as the seventeenth century (but unhelpfully doesn't provide any further information), if someone with better Russian sources wants to try to track it down. – 1006a Jul 25 '18 at 16:24
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This proverb definitely shows up well before the dates you quote, at least in languages other than English. (Specifically, the year 1585.) The best source for information on this is Richard Jente's German Proverbs from the Orient, which is one source that believes that it's originally "eastern":

The best evidence of the eastern source of our proverb seems to be the above quoted citation from Megiserus of the year 1605, and it is still a proverb common in the Turkish: elmá gendý aghadschindán irák düschméz, which literally is: "The apple does not fall far from its own tree."

The 1605 Megiserus quote lists the Turkish proverb "Iemisch agatsdan irak dushmas", and translates it into German: "Der Apffel fellt nicht weit vom Baum".

(I'm personally not convinced that it comes from "the orient" since none of the examples he gives are from the orient itself.)

The article also says:

The earliest appearance in the German collections is from the year 1585: Der Apfel fellt nicht gerne weit vom Baume.

(This Google Translates as "The apple does not like to fall far from the tree".)

From the OED, it lists two quotes in square brackets which means they are "relevant to the development of a sense but not directly illustrative of it":

Traces still exist in the daily language of the Icelanders, for instance in the proverb, eplit fellr ekki lánt frá eikinni the apple falls not far from the tree (the oak!).
A Grammar of the Anglo-Saxon Tongue: with a Praxis, 1830

The other quote is the 1839 Emerson quote, which the OED notes is likely from the German "der Apfel fällt nicht weit von Stamm".

The first real quotation it lists for the entry is the following:

‘The apple’, as the Danes say, ‘had not fallen far from the tree’; the imp was in every respect the counterpart of the father.
The bible in Spain, 1843


Do note, however, that there is a very similar proverb that showed up earlier in English. According to Jente it's "another medieval proverb which might be associated with ours, but [...] has nothing directly to do with it". Here it is:

[Old English] Se æppel næfre þæs feorr ne trenddeð he cyð hwanon he com.

[Latin] Pomum licet ab arbore igitur unde reuoluitur tamen prouidit unde nascitur.

[Modern English] The apple never rolls so far that it does not make known whence it came.
British Library, Cotton Faustina A X; quoted in Maxims in Old English Poetry

  • Interesting research, despite a Latin variant the proverb appears to have taken roots in Northern European languages, there nothing along those lines in French, Italian or Spanish. – user067531 Jul 24 '18 at 21:57
  • @user070221 Well, there is "le fruit ne tombe jamais loin de l'arbre" and an Old French one: "Toz jors siet la pome el pomier" (I can't quite read it though), from Roman du Renart in the 13th century but Jente says neither are the (an?) ancestor of the proverb at hand. – Laurel Jul 24 '18 at 22:23
  • Yes, I missed that. It appears from your answer that the proverb was first adopted in AmE rather than in BrE. – user067531 Jul 24 '18 at 22:38
  • many answers pointing to languages other than Ame or BrE? – lbf Jul 25 '18 at 14:13
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An early 1842 newspaper clipping attributes the phrase as a Danish saying:

"Amongst those of the snowy linen who most particularly attracted my attention, were a father and son; the former was a tall athletic figure of about thirty, by profession a house-breaker, and celebrated throughout Madrid for the peculiar dexterity which he exhibited in his calling. He was now in prison for a rather atrocious murder committed in the dead of night, in a house at Caramanchel, in which his only accomplice was his son, a child under seven years of age. 'The apple,' as the Danes say, 'had not fallen far from the tree.'

Following that clue, I searched for examples of the proverb in Danish, and did find this clipping from 1792.

enter image description here

Danish: Æblet falder ikke langt fra stammen.

Translation: The Apple does not fall far from the tree.

You can follow the link to Google Books where the front cover confirms that the date is not in error.

5

For the sake of completeness, there's a recorded use of the proverb in Russian in 1825, in Alexander Pushkin's Boris Godunov play:

Отец был злодей, а детки невинны. -- Яблоко от яблони недалеко падает.

Using Alfred Hayes's translation,

FIRST PERSON. The father was a villain, but the children are innocent. SECOND PERSON. The apple does not fall far from the apple-tree.

This shows that the saying was not a novelty, was clear to the audience, and was already used in a proverbial sense.

0

the apple never falls far from the tree:

a person inevitably shares traits with or resembles his or her parents or family.

OED R. W. Emerson Let. 22 Dec. (1839) II. 243 As men say the apple never falls far from the stem, I shall hope that another year will draw your eyes and steps to this old dear odious haunt of the race.]

Agree, this is earliest in AmE according to OED, but Mr. E admits to hearing of it ... somewhere.

  • Even in the variant used by the OED, there are much earlier usage instances: books.google.com/ngrams/… – user067531 Jul 24 '18 at 19:44
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    @RaceYouAnytime indeed! – lbf Jul 24 '18 at 22:53
  • -1 Lack of original research. The 1839 citation was already mentioned in the OP. -1 The definition of the adage lacks a source. -1 for “Mr. E admits to hearing it somewhere.” As men say suggests that the adage was already well known, but that there was an older variant, or, an older spelling. – Mari-Lou A Jul 25 '18 at 7:28
  • -1 for poor grammar: Agree, this is earliest in AmE according to OED – Mari-Lou A Jul 25 '18 at 7:32

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