Appple-polish is an idiom and a compound word. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beating around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. A compound word is a word derived from two separate words used together. New compound words usually consist of two, separate words, and are called open compound words. Midway through their evolution, compound words may acquire hyphens between the two words. When a compound becomes a closed compound word, which consists of two words joined without any hyphen or space, it has usually been in use for a long time. The advent of the internet has sped up the process of becoming a closed compound word. We will examine the meaning of the idiom and compound word, apple-polish, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To apple-polish means to present a small token in order to ingratiate oneself, to flatter a superior in order to obtain a favor or an advantage in a situation. Synonyms of apple-polish that may be found in a thesaurus are fawn, kowtow, brown-nose. The word apple-polish first appears in print in the United States in the 1920s, but most probably existed for a period of time before that date. Apple-polish is the verb form, related words are apple-polishes, apple-polished, apple-polishing. The nouns apple-polishing and apple-polisher are probably the more commonly used forms of the idiom. Apple-polisher seems to have started in the schoolyard as an epithet for a child who was attempting to curry favor with the teacher, based on the practice of bringing an apple to a teacher as a gift. If a child were trying to elicit good feelings in his teacher, he would surely polish the apple to a high sheen and present it to her as a treasure. Note that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, apple-polish and related words should be spelled with a hyphen.


There are countless words in English for a person who is given to fawning, self-serving flattery of others, and they are all vivid: “brownnoser,” “bootlicker,” “apple-polisher.” (Publishers Weekly)

By the time American scholar Jan Harold Brunvand published his book, The Study of American Folklore, in 1968, the phrase “apple-polisher” was more or less shorthand for brown-nosing suck-up. (The Smithsonian)

“Boy, he sure did a lot of apple polishing early on and with all those guest he had to chat about and have stand up, I thought his speech would never end,” Garvin said. (The Cleburne Times Review)

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