Posted by James Briggs on December 18, 2005
In Reply to: Upset his applecart posted by R. Berg on December 18, 2005
: : Does anyone have data as to where the phrase "upset his applecart" come from?
: According to Eric Partridge's "Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English," "apple-cart" is a colloquial word for the human body. Partridge cites a 1788 book that says "down with his apple-cart" means "knock or throw him down." He says, "In 'upset the apple-cart' there seems to be a merging of two senses: body and, in dialect, plan; originating [approximately] 1800."
This would appear to have an obvious origin. One can imagine a busy market scene when, suddenly, some youths run by and hit one of the stalls and, in their rush, over goes the apple cart. Although this could be the basis of the saying, in the early to late 1800s "apple cart" was wrestlers' slang for the body and 'down with his apple cart' was to throw a man down.
Incidentally, the Romans had a similar expression "Perii, plaustrum perculi" - "I am undone, I have upset my cart" and so the whole saying may be very old indeed.