Apples and oranges. Apples to oranges. Apples and oysters. Wait! What? Apples and oysters? This is how this idiom was first written in 1670 by John Ray in his A Collection of English Proverbs. This man was an English naturalist publishing works on the topics of botany, zoology, and natural theology. He was one of the first to study and classify the concept of species, which are collections or groupings of items having distinct and like qualities. This is where he came up with a lot of his comparisons and I am sure he was trying to make a point if he put apples against oysters.


John Ray spent a lot of time observing nature and the world around it. One of his many popular publishing’s includes, The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation (1691), in which he confirms and gives facts from his observations that everything in creation is as the Bible states. He was from England and is often thought of as the father of natural history. Such an interesting guy!


Also interesting is how this idiom evolved and takes on a different version depending on where you live. It started as ‘apples and oysters’ in 1670 in England, then as ‘apples to oranges,’ aka ‘apples and oranges,’ starting in 1889. The French refer to ‘apples and pears’ while in Latin America they say, ‘potatoes and sweet potatoes.’ And the British English use the phrase ‘chalk and cheese’ for their comparisons. All of this is getting me in the mood for a summertime picnic, except for the chalk. But chalk does go along with summer too. Who does not enjoy sidewalk chalk art!

The meaning behind this idiom is that you cannot compare objects with no similarities or items of different species. That is where John Ray came up with apples and oysters. How can you begin to compare these two? You can’t. And I love them both. They are different in every way but they both mean summer to me. Apples off the trees and fried oysters at the beach! So yummy! It is said, Summertime and July is “as American as apple pie.” Now that’s a good comparison!


We know apples and oranges cannot really be compared. They are both tastefully unique in their own way but are not alike. When we compare, we tend to confuse. How many of us considered whether to wear a mask or not to wear a mask these last few months, only to compare opinions by others and then become baffled by all the different responses. When we compare, we confuse ourselves, our family, and our friends. We are saying something, or someone is better or not better. Another way to look at masking or anything else is to remember we are all different and unique like the fruit, so to each his own.

As I researched this idiom, I found myself trying to think of the things I compare. When I buy fruit, I do compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. I compare different colors and prints against my skin when I am shopping. I compare which flowers to buy, which paint color to use. I would probably compare two peas in a pod if I had the mentality to observe things in nature like John Ray. I did not realize how much I compared. I do hope I do not compare people.


I then wondered what God says about comparing. The Bible is filled with comparisons, but those comparisons are fitting and used for description.


Proverbs 25:11 says,


“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”


And one of my favorites is Matthew 6:26-27,


“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”


In other words, it is important to know if the things we are comparing have the same functions, are like items, are the same in nature, and that they are useful for further discussion. Then they are comparable. They are not like apples and oranges.

Apples and Oranges
by Carole Gilbert

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