"Big Apple"; Barry Popik; NY Times; William Safire's support of the American Dialect Society

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Tue Feb 3 16:32:50 UTC 2004

   I have no doubt that Barry will ultimately be successful in
bringing recognition to the two New Orleans African-American
stable-hands. In Jan. 1920 their conversation mentioning "the big
apple" (NYC racetracks) was overheard by John J. Fitz Gerald, who a
year later introduced this term into his turf columns.

    Barry's best current chance for success in this endeavor is to
interest New Orleans journalists/historians/civic leaders in the
subject, and in fact Barry is trying this. Let's see what develops.

    But if that approach doesn't pan out, I have another one, albeit
one with a time horizon of a few years. Step one is for me to revise
my 1991 monograph _Origin of the New York City's Nickname, "The Big
Apple"_, this time with Barry as co-author and including (among other
new material) his very important discoveries on the topic. These have
already appeared as articles in my monograph series _Studies in
Slang_, but a unified treatment of the whole subject is now called

     Step two is to interest African-American historians of either NYC
or New Orleans or horseracing, or all of the above, in the topic.
Perhaps a prominent African-American civic leader could also be
interested. After all, a frequently heard (and justified) complaint
of African-American leaders is that the contributions of their people
are often overlooked in the teaching of American history/culture,and
here we have Barry Popik (a Caucasian) pleading to have recognition
given to two African-Americans (thus far anonymous, it is true), who
contributed to the origin a feature of American speech now known
around the world.

     Step three is to approach the media with both the revised book
(the media like the unified treatment of a book) and if possible the
support of an African-American historian or civic leader. February
(Black History Month) might be a good time to do so.

    With these pieces of the puzzle in place, perhaps William Safire
would be interested in once more addressing the issue. Or perhaps
when he goes on vacation he might be open to the suggestion that I
could be one of his fill-in writers, with the topic being "The Big
Apple." Or perhaps not; journalists march to their own drummer. In
any case, Safire has been one of the strongest journalistic
supporters of the American Dialect Society and the work of its
individual members. He and his assistants (the most recent being
Kathleen Miller) have my gratitude for this interest and support of
our work.

    I am grateful too to the other journalists who have written about
Barry's work on "The Big Apple": Ed Zotti (Wall Street
Journal--wonderful article),
Gersh Kuntzman (NY Post--several fine articles), "Dear Abby"
(published a letter of mine a few years ago giving credit to Barry
for his "Big Apple" work); I hope I haven't overlooked any other
important item.

    So, all things will come in the fullness of time--probably not
sooner but certainly not later.

With all good wishes all around,
Gerald Cohen
Professor of German and Russian
(research specialty: Etymology)
University of Missouri-Rolla

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