Did someone say to you, 'know him from Adam/Eve,' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.
The short story is that:
The phrase ‘know someone from Adam’ means to know or recognize someone. It is almost always used in the negative, as in ‘I don’t know him from Adam’ or ‘I would not know him from Adam.’ This implies that you don’t know someone in the slightest, haven’t ever met them before, or absolutely cannot recognize them.
Though one could say, ‘I don’t know her from Eve,’ it is a much less common idiom. That being said, there is a similar phrase in French that does include Eve:
Je ne connais ni d’Eve ni d’Adam
(Literally: “to know neither from Eve nor Adam”)
The name ‘Adam’ in this idiom refers to the Biblical character Adam, who is considered in Abrahamic religions to be the first man and the individual from which the rest of the human race came.
In terms of this specific idiom, the reference to Adam and Eve is pointing to the generic concept of all men or all women. Essentially, when you say, ‘I don’t know him from Adam’ or ‘I don’t know her from Eve.’
If you say that you don’t ‘know [someone] from Adam,’ it means that you’ve never met them before or don’t recognize them at all.
Some sources say that this idiom was first used in the 1800s, but it’s hard to know for sure. You will find some arguing that the idea is that Adam and Eve lived so long ago that a contemporary person wouldn't recognize them. However, the more commonly referenced idea is that the names are used to refer to the generic notion of all men and all women through the use of the names Adam and Eve, respectively.
Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'know him from Adam/Eve’ (and, specifically, ‘know him from Adam’) has been in use since at least 1800.
We find the phrase in “The Old Curiosity Shop” by Charles Dickens, published in 1848:
“‘He called to see my Governor this morning,’ replied Mr. Chucster; ‘beyond that, I don’t know him from Adam.’”
The idiom also appears in a British Parliament text from 1837:
“Are you positive about it? – I have no reason to believe the course differed in this case of Mr. Carr from others, or the man I believe to be Carr; I did not know him from Adam.”
It also appears in a collection published in 1841 entitled New British Museum: A Choice Selection From the Works of the Most Celebrated English Authors:
“At last, I come across the boy, on the hill near the house; an’ at last I’m to tell ye why I put the quare story on him ye know about, instead o’ the thru one I thravelled so far to tell him. First, I didn’t know him from Adam, when we met, until he wanted me to take, along wid a brave handful o’ goold an’ silver, a little meddle, like that I remembered, even in the light of a bad moon, was hung round his neck, at the christenin’ of him, by his uncle an’ his godfather, an’ that I often seen afore– an’ maybe the way it came into Collum’s hands, too.”
While the idiom ‘know her from Eve’ is less common than ‘know him from Adam,’ it certainly does appear in some texts as early as the 1800s.
One example of ‘Know her from Eve’ in print appears in a novel called Ups and Downs by Edward E. Hale that was published as a part of a compilation entitled Old and New in 1872:
“But she had been painfully conscious, all the afternoon, that Mrs. Emlen would not know her from Eve or from Adah or from Zillah, except by costume. Nor was it quite clear to Bertha’s mind that Mrs. Emlen would welcome, with the utmost cordiality, a strange girl, who would have to confess in the first moment, that she had just come from an infected vessel, and that she had been all day long hanging over a cholera patient.”
It can also be found in the 1870 text The Ladies’ Repository: Volume 30:
“She insisted that my mother should see her relative, and learn why she came in this unceremonious way, to install herself in her house, who did not know her from Eve nor Adam.”
How would 'know him from Adam/Eve' be used in a sentence?
Let’s take a look at some examples:
If someone says, ‘I don’t know him from Adam’ or ‘I wouldn’t know him from Adam,’ it means that they don’t recognize someone at all, have never met them before, or don’t know them. When talking about a female, you can also say, ‘I don’t know her from Eve’ or ‘I wouldn’t know her from Eve.’
Referring to the Biblical characters of the father and mother of the human race, the idea is that the names ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ are being used as generic references to all men and all women.
Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!
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