"Big Apple" 1909 reference

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Thu Jun 8 17:11:44 UTC 2000

   Barry Popik is correct in rejecting the 1909 attestation "the big apple"
(in reference to NYC) as an indication that this was already NYC's
nickname.  The quote says: "It [the Mid-West] inclines to think that the
big apple gets a disproportionate share of the national sap." "Big apple"
here means roughly "overweening big shot" and happens to refer to NYC--but
only in this context!  "Big apple" was not yet a nickname for NYC!  It's as
if I referred to Washington D.C. as "the big enchilada" in a discussion of
political power;  but if I then went to the train station and asked for a
ticket to The Big Enchilada, the ticket-seller would have no idea where I
wanted to go.

     And when "the big apple" did emerge in print really in reference to
NYC (1921ff.), for at least six years or so  it never designated NYC as a
whole, but rather just the NYC racetracks;  a bit more broadly, "the big
apple" referred to the big time in horseracing.   And it was never "in the
big apple" but rather "on the big apple," i.e., on the racetracks.

   Also, Barry Popik has never said that the term originated with the two
African-American stable hands in New Orleans, 1921.  Rather, the
conversation of the two stable hands, 1921, is the earliest point to which
"the big apple" (as a reference to the NYC racetracks) can be traced. And
yes, turf writer John J. FitzGerald did overhear their conversation;  he
twice gave them credit in print for introducing him to "the big apple."

     Incidentally,  I believe that the research that I and Barry Popik have
done on "The Big Apple" is accepted by all scholars who have looked at it.
The NY Times spokeswoman who wrote to Barry Popik cited Irving Allen's book
as her source for evidence that "the big apple" existed already in 1909 as
NYC's nickname.   But Professor Allen relied on me for his information on
"The Big Apple" and never raised objections to the interpretation  Barry
Popik and I were advancing.  Note his 1993 _The City in Slang_, p. 63: "A
controversy ensued over the origin, date, and the first meaning of "The Big
Apple," but the story is now getting straightened out by the efforts of
slang etymologist Gerald L. Cohen and others." (Among "others" read:
primarily Barry Popik, who has done remarkable research on the subject.)

-----Gerald Cohen
      Professor of Foreign Languages
     University of Missouri-Rolla
(research specialty: Etymology; author of _Origin of New York City's
Nickname, "The Big Apple"_ (=Forum Anglicum, vol. 19). Frankfurt am Main:
Peter Lang Verlag, 1991.---Several follow-up articles on this topic have
appeared in my _Studies in Slang_ series (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang);
the "Big Apple" updates consist primarily of Barry Popik's valuable

>MIME-Version: 1.0
>Date:         Mon, 5 Jun 2000 21:10:25 EDT
>Reply-To: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Sender: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>From: Bapopik at AOL.COM
>Subject:      New York Times responds
>Comments: cc: gsnyder at observer.com
>   Yesterday, the New York Times acknowledged an error.  My name had been
>misspelled in the April 1996 article.  There was a correction in last
>Sunday's Times on page 2.  Four years later!
>   An Abuzz.com message mentioned this correction (search using "New York
>Times" and "Lisa Carparelli" and "Big Apple" as key words), and then added:
>   As for your additional claim, our research establishes that the
>earliest known reference to "the Big Apple" as a nickname for New York
>City is in a 1909 book, "The Wayfarer in New York," by Edward S. Martin
>(Macmillan).  That reference is cited in a 1993 Oxford University Press
>book, "The City in Slang," by Irving Lewis Allen.
>   So with respect, we do not share your belief that the term originated
>with two African-American stable hands.  At most, a reporter from The
>Morning Telegraph overhead it being used by stablehands and then
>popularized it.
>   We are glad to correct the record on the spelling of your name, but we
>believe that's all the correction that is due.  (...)
>--Lisa Carparelli, spokeswoman, The New York Times

gcohen at umr.edu

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