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Last Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
The apple of our eye
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Apple
Britons munch through five billion a year

The battle between Apple Computer and the Beatles' Apple Corps has cast the spotlight on that most ordinary but symbolic of fruits.

For Apple Computer it was a stylised apple made up of coloured stripes and with a neat bite taken out of it. For the Beatles, it was a perfect Granny Smith.

John Allert, chief executive of branding consultants Interbrand, says the choice of an apple has inspired other companies to look for softer imagery.

"Over the last 20 or 30 years there has been a shift away from very aggressive corporate iconography to icons and logos that are more organic and approachable and the apples are a perfect example of that."

But the choice of an apple, is far more than just about being soft and organic, it taps into a rich and complex symbolism.

It encapsulates the temptation towards something that looks innocent and normal and ordinary but which has a significance beyond itself
Dr Matthew Steenberg
Theologian

The apple is an emblem of knowledge.

Dr Matthew Steenberg, a theologian at Oxford University, has written numerous papers on the significance of the Adam and Eve story of Genesis, where Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat a fruit - long held to be an apple - from the Tree of Knowledge.

He notes: "In the second century, the tree is not seen as containing any intrinsically bad knowledge. It is knowledge man is eventually intended to possess, but it is prohibited to Adam and Eve because they are not yet at a position of growth.

"The deception seems to be encapsulated in the fruit, something beautiful and delicious. In popular culture the episode is widely known. It encapsulates the temptation towards something that looks innocent and normal and ordinary but which has a significance beyond itself."

Quince theory

The original, and little-known, Apple Computer logo showed the legendary moment that said fruit bashed Isaac Newton on the head and prompted him to have some revolutionary thoughts about gravity. But Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was not a fan.

Apple logo
Apple Computer's original logo
Instead, designer Rob Janoff came up with the famous stylised apple, now replaced by a monochrome version. The bite out of the apple has variously been interpreted as a play on "byte", or a reference to Adam and Eve.

But Dr Steenberg admits there has been some doubt as to whether it even was an apple that Eve tucked into.

"There are those who think it is actually a quince. But the apple imagery has become dominant."

But even with its powerful associations with knowledge, temptation and sin, those who grow apples see its symbolism as all about health.

As the adage goes, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and according to trade association English Apples and Pears, the British chomp their way through five billion a year.

Chief executive Adrian Barlow says there is compelling evidence that consumption of apples helps prevent heart disease, improve lung function and prevent certain types of cancer.

Big Plum

He continues: "There is even research showing eating apples increases powers of concentration - even the aroma of apples."

Apple Martin
Apple Martin, with mum Gwyneth Paltrow
But he admits that the choice of a Granny Smith by the Beatles is somewhat ironic.

"The thing about Granny Smith is that it sounds English - just over 60% of consumers believe Granny Smith is. Actually she was an Aussie... but better that they chose an apple than any other fruit.

"All of these things are important even for instance the New York nickname of the Big Apple. It is better it is called the Big Apple than the Big Plum. Apples are in competition with other fruit."

He even relishes Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow naming their child Apple. It is all welcome help in the fight to retain the apple's status as the nation's favourite fruit against the predations of the foreign banana - which vies with apple for top spot fruit-lovers' hearts.

The final aspect of the apple's symbolism is its simplicity.

In Terry Pratchett's sci-fi novel The Dark Side of the Sun, a religiously symbolic meal of bread, a glass of water, a strip of fish and an apple is eaten.

And what could be simpler than a bite of a nice crisp apple.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I always thought the bite out of Apple Computer's apple was a reference to the death of Alan Turing. He commited suicide by eating an apple he had previously poisoned.
Gary, Birmingham

There have been three important apples in history: Eve's, Newton's, and William Tell's. The first two represent knowledge, the third represents freedom. I'm sure I read that somewhere but can't remember where. And there's also Snow White's, I wonder what that one represented.
Ricardo, London,UK

All very nice but where exactly does it say in Genesis that the fruit of the Tree Of Knowledge was ever an apple?
Darren Stephens, Whitby,UK

Granny Smith was indeed English - she emigrated to Australia where she developed her apples.
Steve

It's a common misconception that Eve took a bite out of an apple, the Bible only refers to a generic piece of fruit!
Oliver Brown, Nottingham, UK

All this talk of apples... well it's all a bit bannanas!
Chris Henry, Stoke-On-Trent

Genesis makes no mention of an apple: merely the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. But the bottom line is the world's problems started when a woman took dietary advice from a snake.
Alan, London UK

Alan Turing, who established the theoretical basis for computing as well as cracking the Enigma code, committed sucide by biting into an apple dipped in cyanide after being persecuted for his homosexuality
Martin, London

When I asked a native New Yorker why the city was called the big apple, he replied "Because it's rotten to the core"...Nuff said
dave, Romsey

George Harrison was the first to coin the image of an apple with a bite taken out of it - his apple to the core logo from his 33 and a third album clearly sets the precident.
rod fenwick, slough, UK

Has anyone read the theory behind Apple Macs' logo? It is more sinister than the article makes out. It is the fruit that the devil tempted man with; and guess what the first Apple Mac computer cost back in the day?......$666.66! They're the devil in disguise, don't you know?!!
Lyn, Aberystwyth, Wales, UK

It's no wonder computer workers end up putting on weight. They are surrounded by mouth-watering computer products like Apples, Apricots, Blackberries and even the phone could be Orange.
Stuart Royle, Bradford

I enjoyed reading this while munching my afternoon apple.
Beth Scofield, Ilminster, Somerset, UK

Are you guys taking the pips?
Robert Leather, Manchester, UK

Apples..... the best fruit in the world apart from grapes. The Fruit World Cup is evidence of this where grapes beat apples in the final!!
Anthony McKeown, Leeds, UK

The article confirms that the 'Apple' has been used as an icon in many diverse situations, which is why I could not understand how Apple Corps could even contemplate challenging Apple Computer, surely, if they think they own the sole right to use an image of a Granny Smith and anything remotely similar they should be suing many other companies and institutions as well?
Brian Seavers, UK Lake District

It's a real shame that so many of the more distinctive varities of English apple are dying out, to be replaced with identikit tasteless ones from New Zealand and South Africa. It's time for an orchard revival!
Chris, Leeds, UK

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