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It's Like Comparing Apples and Oranges: Debunking the Abused Analogy

Updated on August 30, 2011

Apples and Oranges

"Apples and oranges," that is the common refrain. I hear it all the time. It's used to make the point that to compare one thing to another is unreasonable, because the two are so utterly different. It's commonly held that apples and oranges are of disparate genera, of dissimilar stock and just basically in a different class. In fact, the implication is that they hail from different universes and are absolute opposites. So, when people want to suggest that it's absurd to liken one thing to another, they say "It's like comparing apples and oranges."

While I fully understand what is meant by this cliché, when I hear it, the absurdity of comparing the comparison of apples and oranges to the comparison of-say-rocket launchers and daisies registers somewhere in the back of my mind. It's just as absurd to compare the comparison of apples and oranges to the comparison of rocket launchers and daisies as it is to compare rocket launchers to daisies. You see, the fact of the matter is that apples and oranges have much more in common than they have in contrast. I would venture to say that apples and oranges fell off the same branch of the evolutionary tree, but then each bounced and rolled its separate way.

Which brings me to the following point-apples and oranges are both tree-borne crops. Each is a hearty crop that loves lots of sun and water and will flourish with relatively little care, which is why the two are so abundant and found the world over. Yes, they cling dearly to life, and this mutual tenacity extends well into the afterlife. When measured against other fruits, our heroes both display an uncommonly-extended shelf life.

Speaking of shelf life, go to any supermarket and survey the produce department. You'll find these two items within that department and, quite possibly, right next to each other. I've actually found apples mixed with the oranges and vice versa.

Close Kinship


Other cultures seem to have a much firmer grasp of analogies. The British, for example, go with the phrase: "chalk and cheese," and I'm personally partial to Colombia's: "confundir la mierda con la pomada" (to confuse shit with ointment). You will not find either chalk and cheese or shit and ointment in the same department of any store I've ever been to. If someone was to say, "It's like apples and sponges," or even, "Hey, lamb chops and oranges," I would have nothing whatsoever to say about their similes, because then I could see a genuine incongruity. But, come on, apples and oranges are very much alike: both are tremendously popular items from the same food group.

One reason for their popularity is that both are so sweet and delicious. Although oranges are citrus fruits and apples are not, their heavy sugar content easily compensates for the abundance of citric acid they bear, so that one rarely comes across a sour orange; in fact, one is much more likely to find a tart apple. Personally, I find their taste quite similar at times, and I'm not alone. It's not uncommon, in other languages, for the orange to be referred to as an apple. The Greek chrysomelia, for example, translates to golden apple.

Another reason for their common appeal is that they both are at once healthful and easy to eat: they make great snacks. Great nutritional value and a high fiber content are common to both of them., and it's so easy to simply pick one up (of either ), and, with absolutely no preparation, quiet a nagging belly.

Besides all of the above, they weigh about the same. Although oranges tend to be juicier, the relatively small size of these fruits means that the extra juice amounts to very little added weight, so any discrepancy in that regard is minimal. I can personally vouch for this because the food fights I've been embroiled in have taught me that another of their shared traits is that they fit so nicely in my grip. Each is so handy and makes such a wonderful projectile. I can throw either with great velocity and pinpoint accuracy.

As if all this was not enough, there is empirical, experimentally verifiable proof that apples and oranges have much in common. Scott A. Sandford, of the NASA Ames Research Center, took it upon himself to conduct rigorous scientific research on the subject after being accused of–you guessed it–comparing apples to oranges. Using a Nicolet 740 FTIR spectrometer to analyze a Granny Smith apple and a Sunkist orange, Sanford once and for all debunked the abused analogy. The resulting infrared transmission spectra of the fruit, published in the 1995 Annals of Improbable Research, are uncannily analogous. In layman's terms, the graphs have matching peaks and valleys.

Now, you might still be tempted to argue that apples and oranges look completely different. This is the crux to the entire matter. The whole idea of a dissimilarity between apples and oranges is based on one thing and one thing alone: oranges are orange. This is true, and apples are not. But that is where the contrast in their appearance ends. Both are basically round and of identical size. Each fruit does vary in size, but they vary within the same range. Consider this: if, without your knowledge, someone was to dye an apple orange and place it in the midst of a bunch of oranges, you would have to be looking very closely in order to detect an impostor.

A Bowl of Orapples


So what exactly does that mean: "Apples and oranges"? That rocket launchers and daisies are kin?


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      vince 4 years ago

      Sorry mate you have it all wrong, the point is that you can't fairly compare apples and oranges because apples have different criteria for quality than oranges. It is not meant for a comparison to highlight difference but a comparison to determine superiority. If you are comparing an apple against an orange it is hardly fair to say the apple is better because it is crunchy, because oranges are not meant to be crunchy. A person is doing wrong when they compare apples to oranges because they should be comparing their apple with other apples

      A real life example is a cake contest, if you a judging a chocolate cake against a carrot cake it is hardly fair to judge based on sweetness because the chocolate cake will always win, but carrot cakes are not meant to be as sweet as chocolate cakes.

      The saying makes good sense, it is people who misuse it so often

    • cobras profile image

      cobras 7 years ago

      Thanks steveoMc. I might have to expand a little just to work that tidbit in.

      I think if we tossed that oraple into a pile of oranges it might blend right in kimh039.

      Yea Whikat, its interesting to note that comparing some comparison to the comparison of apples and oranges is itself an analogy, but as kimoh39 reminds us, lets not confuse shit with ointment.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      @steveoMc, i think you could compare apples with pumpkins, or oranges with pumkins but not orange apples with oranges. would love to hear your thoughts on that cobras. I think steveMc is confusing shit with ointment.

    • profile image

      Whikat 7 years ago

      This really helped to get my brain working. I have never thought of that analogy in that perspective before. This was fun to read and very thought provoking. Thank you for sharing.

    • SteveoMc profile image

      SteveoMc 7 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Oh and what about orange apples:

      You nailed it cobras!

    • cobras profile image

      cobras 7 years ago

      Thanks for the feedback kimh039. Good to know there'll be one more enlightened soul out there telling folks they're confusing shit with ointment.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      Wow, Cobras. You certainly know your apples and oranges! I just used the analogy yesterday. It will be a cold day in hell before I use it again. Nice hub Cobras. Well written, a little on the lighter side (funny), thought provoking and pleasurable. Thanks.


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