"Big Apple", "Big Onion" (and "shyster")

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Thu Jan 16 02:32:31 UTC 2003

Dear Dr. Cassidy,

    I appreciate your reflecting on the origin of "Big Apple", "Big
Onion" (message shared with the American Dialect Society) and on
"shyster" (message just to me).  In all cases I prefer to support the
positions already presented
on ads-l, with published research fully able to support these positions.

    I've been swamped with work the passed several days due to the
start of the winter semester, but I should have some free time this
weekend.  I'll be happy then to fill you in on the research that has
been done on the above topics and to answer any questions you may

     Also, I find the origin of Irish place-names to be fascinating,
and your familiarity with Irish would no doubt be very enlightening
to the members of the American Dialect Society unfamiliar with that

     You include most of your snail-mail address on your ads-l
message;  if you let me know the zip code, I'll be happy to send you
with my compliments my two monographs on "shyster" and some material
on "The Big Apple."  Btw, before this latter term became a nickname
for NYC, it meant "NYC racetracks," spelled with lower-case letters.
Also, there's an earlier, 1909, attestation of "the big  apple" which
refers to NYC and at first glance seems to mean NYC but which I have
argued actually means "overweaning big shot."  It no more means NYC
than a reference to Washington  D.C. as the big enchilada" (of
political power) would make this the nickname of our nation's
capital.  The 1909 attestation of "the big apple" in reference to NYC
is totally isolated.

   With best wishes.

Gerald Cohen, Editor
Comments on Etymology
(and Professor of German and Russian)
University of Missouri-Rolla
Rolla, MO 65409

At 10:52 PM -0500 1/14/03, Daniel Cassidy wrote:
>Date:         Tue, 14 Jan 2003 22:52:44 EST
>Reply-To: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
>From: Daniel Cassidy <DanCas1 at AOL.COM>
>Subject:      Big Apple Big Onion
>Comments: To: ADS-L at uga.cc.uga.edu
>A Chairde:
>I believe the origin of the Big Apple and the Big Onion as monickers for my
>hometown of NYC involves the Irish language. The Irish words Áth (pronounced
>Ahh), for a ford or river crossing, and béal (pron. beeul), for the mouth of
>a river, appear in hundreds of place names in Ireland.
>Big Apple
>Big Áth Béal
>Big Crossing at the Mouth (of the Rivers)
>New York City.
>Áth: Ford; a river crossing.
>Béal: Mouth (of a river).

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