My earliest childhood memory is of the swaying limbs of Golden Delicious apple trees. Rows of them stood next to a dirt road that separated our orchard from the front yard.

The Kentucky summer sky hung hot behind those high twigs, their leaves leathery green on top, soft as down underneath.

Frank Browning,“Sweet Temptation,” Reader’s Digest

Why, both down and underneath and not one of them; for example, underneath?

Is it emphasis? Sentence rhythm if you will?

  • 1
    What would “soft as underneath” mean? Jul 27, 2016 at 1:17
  • It's easy to see how this is confusing given that 'down' is used in so many idiomatic expressions e.g. 'Down Under', 'down in the dumps', 'down south', 'down on', 'down to', ... In this case the phrase is completely literal.
    – JimmyJames
    Jul 27, 2016 at 16:28

2 Answers 2


"Down" has a second meaning here. It is used to reference down feathers, a type of feather known for being soft.

The phrase "soft as down" is just a poetic way to emphasize something being extremely smooth and soft feeling. The quoted text is using that phrase referring to the underside of the leaves.

  • 8
    "How do you get down from an elephant?" "You don't get down from an elephant. You get down from a goose." Jul 27, 2016 at 0:45
  • 2
    @Malvolio No, no, you get down off a duck's back.
    – cat
    Jul 27, 2016 at 2:33
  • @Malvolio Cool for my kidz; I'll throw them as tricky a curve ball as the one I've had.
    – learner
    Jul 27, 2016 at 5:09
  • 2
    @TiStrga "underneath" is a preposition, the adjective is "soft".
    – OrangeDog
    Jul 27, 2016 at 7:30
  • @OrangeDog I was of two minds about underneath, whether it is a preposition or an adverb. I second yours but I am not sure I can prove and disprove each. If it's not too much trouble, I would like to see how.
    – learner
    Jul 27, 2016 at 12:53

The author is contrasting the tops of the trees with the undersides of the trees. The contrast extends to the materials he likens them to.

The leaves on top are like leather, pliable but not "soft."

But the leaves on the undersides of the trees are as soft as "down feathers," the small, soft, fluffy feathers that are under the contour feathers of birds.

" ... soft as down [feathers] underneath."


This is a false aperçu. The leaves at the bottom of the leaf ball are not different from those at the top -- not younger or thinner, and certainly not "fluffier" or "softer."

  • No. The author is contrasting the different parts of each leaf. Each leaf is leathery on one side and soft on the other. He is NOT contrasting leaves from different parts of the tree. Jul 30, 2016 at 11:17

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