7.10.2015

What on Earth is an Apple-Knocker?!

What on earth is an apple-knocker?My cousins and I have contemplated this for decades. Our grandmother, Helen LaVanco Manno, was a vivacious woman who was quick to laugh and provide witty commentary on life and the people around her. The term "apple-knocker" was one of the most colorful words we learned from her musings.

Helen was a city person who was born and spent much of her life in Newark, NJ. She and my grandfather were fortunate to buy The Old Farm near Blairstown, NJ and used it as their weekend home. She recalled an Old Farm neighbor, also a city person who lived there part-time, who referred to some of the year-round residents as apple-knockers. Helen adapted the word as her own and always had a good chuckle when she used it to describing simple-minded folks and backwards ways.

My cousins and I always pondered what exactly was an apple-knocker. Was it different than a hick? Were there hidden meanings to it? Was apple-knocker really a word or were we the only ones to use it? Fast-forward to the new millennium and the all-knowing internet, and we were able to find the answer.

A web search revealed that apple-knocker is indeed a recognized idiom. Sources point to its origin as being between 1910 and 1920. Oxford Dictionary defines apple-knocker as "an unsophisticated person" and Merriam Webster states it simply as "rustic." Urban Dictionary includes a variety of meanings and this definition from The Free Dictionary's Idioms section seems to be precisely what my grandmother and her neighbor had in mind:
"Apple-knocker: A country bumpkin. One of the many terms that city slickers applied to less sophisticated rural dwellers (“rube,” “hayseed,” and “Gomer” are others). The phrase came from fruit harvesters using long sticks to dislodge the hanging crop."
Unfortunately, the web search didn't turn up too many examples of how the word was used in popular culture so apparently apple-knocker was never part of the widespread lexicon.

Have you ever heard an apple-knocker? Do you know any apple-knockers? What are some words or idioms that you learned from your grandparents? Share your stories in the comments section of this post.