apple of Sodom

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The fruit of the mudar (Calotropis procera); sense 2.1)
The ripe fruit of the black spine nightshade or devil's apple (Solanum linnaeanum; sense 2.3.4)


apple + of + Sodom; compare the common assumption that the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden was an apple. Possibly also imitative of Hebrew [script needed] (tapuah) + [script needed] (Sdom)



apple of Sodom (plural apples of Sodom)

  1. (medieval mythology) A gigantic tree supposed to have grown on the site of the destroyed cities Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 18–19 in the Bible), the apples of which would turn to ash and smoke once picked.
    • 1824 May, “Palestine Mission”, in The Latter Day Luminary (New Series), volume V, number V, Washington, D.C.: Printed and published by John S[ilva] Meehan, Columbian Office, North E Street, OCLC 34718713, page 141:
      We searched for the famous apple of Sodom, and found two kinds of fruit, either of which, with the help of a little poetic imagination, might pass for the fruit in question. [] The other fruit, which we observed, and which seems to me more like the apple in question, grows around Jericho. It looks very inviting, but its taste is extremely bitter and disagreeable. One of the Arabs told me it was poisonous. [François-René de] Chateaubriand, who thought this the apple of Sodom, says, "When dried it yields a blackish seed, which may be compared to ashes, and which in taste resembles bitter pepper." Whether either of these is the apple of Sodom, or whether there is any such apple, even after all that Josephus and Tacitus and others have said about it, I will not attempt to decide.
    • 1830, Antoine Augustin Calmet; Charles Taylor, “Asphaltites”, in Calmet's Dictionary of the Holy Bible, with the Biblical Fragments, [...] In Five Volumes, volume I (Dictionary, A to IZR), 5th rev. and enlarged edition, London: Holdsworth and Ball, 18 St. Paul's Church-yard, OCLC 674439618, page 206, column 1:
      The late adventurous traveller, M. [Ulrich Jasper] Seetzen, who went round the Red Sea, notices the famous apple of Sodom; of which report stated that it had all the appearance of the most inviting apple; but was filled with nauseous and bitter dust only.
  2. (medieval mythology) The fruit of the mythical tree.
    • 1834 September, “The Influence of the Press [L'Autocratie de la Presse, 8vo. La Haye: May, 1834]”, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, volume XXXVI, number CCXXVI, Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons; London: T[homas] Cadell, Strand, OCLC 701851679, page 378:
      Men have tasted of the apples of Sodom, and they have found bitter ashes under an inviting and luscious surface.
    • 1913, W[illiam] R[ichard] C[unningham] Latson, “Association of Ideas”, in Secrets of Mental Supremacy, Holyoke, Mass.: The Elizabeth Towne Co., OCLC 49437169, pages 71–72:
      Then in rapid succession there came into my mind memories of: the apple that William Tell is said to have shot off the head of his son; "apples of gold in pitchers of silver" mentioned in the Bible; the "apple of Sodom," the fruit of the osher tree, which is beautiful externally but filled with a kind of ashes—therefore often used as a symbol of disappointment; []
  3. (botany) The names of various plants, often bearing bitter or poisonous fruit.
    • 1997, Richard McMahon, “The Outdoor Environment and the Camper”, in Camping Hawai‛i: A Complete Guide, rev. edition, Honolulu, Hi.: University of Hawai‛i Press, →ISBN, page 14:
      A particularly dangerous plant, and one that may cause confusion, is the apple of Sodom, a low, prickly bush with a tomatolike fruit that is highly poisonous.
    1. The mudar (Calotropis procera), a flowering plant, found from northern Africa to southeast Asia, which bears poisonous fruit.
    2. The bitter apple, colocynth, etc. (Citrullus colocynthis), a desert plant native to Asia and the Mediterranean Basin with extremely bitter flesh.
    3. A number of plants of the genus Solanum, the nightshades.
      1. The forest bitterberry (Solanum anguivi), a plant native to non-arid parts of Africa.
      2. The Carolina horsenettle (Solanum carolinense), a plant native to North America.
      3. The bitter apple, bitterball, or bitter tomato (Solanum incanum), a plant native to sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and India.
      4. The black spine nightshade or devil's apple (Solanum linnaeanum), a plant native to southern Africa that bears poisonous berries.
      5. The nipplefruit (Solanum mammosum), a plant native to South America.

Usage notes[edit]

The mythological sense is often used figuratively, describing something that looks desirable but is worthless (see, for example, the 1834 quotation).


Further reading[edit]