"Big Apple" antedating

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 25 21:02:09 UTC 2008

I've lived in Los Angeles and I like it. I've visited New York City
and I don't like it. Nevertheless, I find the possibility that Los
Angeles was ever the Big Apple unpleasant. Perhaps the fact that "Big
Apple" is in quotes means that the writer didn't consider L.A. to be
the real Big Apple. Like, maybe he was being ironic. Los Angeles was
pretty much still a backwater, in the 'Twenties. The infamous Rape of
Owens Valley by the Bureau (later Division) of Waterworks & Supply
under William Mulholland, the Father of the Los Angeles Department of
Water & Power, that supplied the water to allow L.A. to grow into the
city that we all know and love or hate had occurred only twelve years

(Yes, I once worked for Water & Power, but I worked for the Division
of Power Operating & Maintenance. I DID NOT HAVE SEX WITH THAT WATER!)


On 1/25/08, Jesse Sheidlower <jester at panix.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jesse Sheidlower <jester at PANIX.COM>
> Subject:      "Big Apple" antedating
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> We've heard a lot about _Big Apple_ in this space in recent
> years. As far as I am aware, the current thinking is still
> that John Fitz Gerald popularized this from 1921 onwards in
> reference to the New York horse-racing circuit. The earliest
> example clearly referring to New York itself, not in a racing
> context, was a 1928 quote from the N.Y. Times, found some time
> ago by Fred Shapiro.
> However, yesterday I found the following quote:
>   1922 _Chicago Defender_ 16 Sept. 8/1, I trust your trip to
>   'the big apple' (New York) was a huge success and only wish
>   that I had been able to make it with you.
> This was in a musical context, not a horseracing context.
> I'll leave speculation, esp. about the idea that this quote
> makes it more likely that 'New York' was the original sense
> and the racing sense is a specialization, to others.
> And wait! There's more.
> I shared this quote with Fred and Ben yesterday, who
> independently discovered this earlier quote from the same
> writer in the same source:
> 1920 _Chicago Defender_ 15 May 7/1 Dear Pal, Tony: No, Ragtime
> Billy Tucker hasn't dropped completely out of existence, but
> is still in the 'Big Apple', Los Angeles.
> (Note that the punctuation mark after "Big Apple" is unclear;
> I assume it's a comma contextually, but it could just as
> easily be a period.)
> This is earlier than any New York reference, with the
> exception of the Martin _Wayfarer_ quote.
> I observe also that the 1922 (New York) quote does not
> capitalize the phrase, but the 1920 (Los Angeles) one does.  I
> don't know how much to read into this. Perhaps we should take
> both of these as meaning 'a big city', and the examples are
> made contextually specific as necessary.
> I'll refrain from any further speculation about the meaning
> and development of this, but I'm sure some of you will have
> something to say.
> Jesse Sheidlower
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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