Upset the applecart

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Upset the applecart is an idiom that may have its roots in ancient Rome. We will examine the meaning of the idiom upset the applecart, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To upset the applecart means to spoil something, to ruin one’s plans, to upend a routine, to disturb a system that has been in place for some time. The idiom upset the applecart has been in use since the 1700s; the earliest know use is by Jeremy Belknap in his work, The History of New Hampshire. However, the Roman playwright Plautus’ play, Epidicus, written around 200 BCE, contains the proverb; “perii, plaustrum perculi,” which means “I’m done for! I’ve upset my wagon!” Related phrases are upsets the applecart, upsetting the applecart. Note that the word applecart is a closed compound word with no space or hyphen.


“I went up with Palace later in my career and I said to Iain Dowie then that a lot of teams when they get promoted then go into the market and bring people in and you have to be so careful not to upset the applecart with the people that have earned that promotion.” (The Manchester Evening News)

The DUPs Ian Paisley has lobbied for legislation on abortion, passed by Westminster during the collapse of power sharing, to now be handed over to the assembly, saying it would be “absolute folly” to intervene on issues such as abortion that might upset the “applecart”. (The Irish News)

She’ll have you know that she stayed in her last job for 10 years and she’s typically not the kind of person who wants to “upset the applecart.” (Forbes Magazine)