“How do you like them apples?”
- Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) in Chinatown
Kate and I were watching Chinatown on DVD on the weekend when the above line was spoken. Kate asked where the expression originated and I had no clue, couldn’t even guess why liking apples is equated to an expression that means “So how do you like that?”
The phrase also appears in that great John Wayne cowie Rio Bravo when Walter Brennan throws a stick of dynamite into the air near the bad guys and John Wayne explodes it by shooting it, taking the bad guy out. Walter Brennan says in his cheeky voice “How do you like them apples?”
The expression comes from the days of World War 1 and originated as follows:
Between 1915 and 1917 the British Army used a 2 inch Medium Trench Mortar, so called because the barrel of the mortar was 2 inches wide. This mortar fired a cylindrical bomb that weighed 20 kilos (42 pounds), 23 kilos/51 pounds with stick and fuze. The round bomb, which was the size of a soccer ball, was attached to a length of pipe which formed a shaft that was inserted into the barrel of the mortar.
British troops loading a 2 inch trench mortar with attached periscope post, World War I.
Bombs ready for use
Because of the similarity of the bombs to toffee apples, which are apples coated with hard toffee and a stick inserted for handling, the bombs came to be referred to as toffee apples. The mortar was commonly known as a toffee apple mortar.
Back when I was a kid toffee apples were a lot more common, especially at fetes and child activities. I don’t recall having seen any in a long long time. In the US they are called candy apples. Are they still around?
Apparently the phrase “How do you like them apples?” developed from being yelled at the enemy after toffee apple bombs had taken out some tanks. It spread and eventually came to mean “Cop that!” in a general sense.
Some more World War 1 toffee apple bomb pics:
Display of some British Army Ordnance including a toffee apple bomb.
Toffee apple bomb in flight immediately after firing.
Typical mortar pit, Mesopotamia 1917, with firing lanyard laid out. The bomb is fuzed.
Royal Army Ordnance Corps men playing cards on bomb dump, Acheux, July 1916, Battle of the Somme. Sticks not yet attached. Note wooden retaining blocks attached to bombs
Men carrying mortar bombs by their attached carrying straps
Who would have thought that there was a connection between a child's sweet and the trenches of World War 1.