Manzana (January 1966); "New York" & "New England" in maps

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Thu Apr 3 09:27:24 UTC 2003

Barry Popik wrote:

> But I would be grateful to him if he would confirm or deny my
> suspicion that BIG APPLE is a transliteration of the older Mexican
> idion "mazana principal" for the main square of the town or the
> downtown area.
>    This invented the Big Apple "manzana theory."  John Ciardi,
> writing in the 1970s in the SATURDAY REVIEW and in a letter to THE
> NEW YORK TIMES, added that it was used by jazz musicians of New
> Orleans around 1910.  There never was any evidence--it was all
> guessing.

Many thanks, as so often, for clearing up the details of the true
citation. It was John Ciardi's note in his "A Browser's Dictionary"
that led me to this idea in the first place. However, I'm not at all
sure that the idea is as yet entirely ruled out on the basis of the
evidence we have. Perhaps Barry or Gerald Cohen could comment further?

> I have NEW YORK MORNING TELEGRAPH "Big Apple" citations from
> Tijuana (Mexico) and Santa Anita (California, "the Big Apple of the
> West").  "Manzana" was not used in those articles.

But would a Spanish phrase appear untranslated in English-language
articles of the period? Can we rule out a route of transmission of a
calque into English at that time? It has been said that Spanish was
not well known in New Orleans at this period, but it is not hard to
imagine a loan translation appearing elsewhere and being transmitted,
for example, among stablehands at racetracks.

One obvious immediate approach is to determine whether the Spanish
"manzana" or "manzana principal" in the sense of something highly
desirable existed around 1910 - can anyone comment on this? If we
find that "manzana principal" actually travelled from English into
Spanish, of course, the whole theory falls down.

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at>
Web: <>

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