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Origin of New York City’s Nickname «The Big Apple»

Cohen, Gerald Leonard / Popik, Barry A.

Origin of New York City’s Nickname «The Big Apple»

Second Revised and Expanded Edition

Year of Publication: 2011

Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2011. 175 pp., num. fig.
ISBN 978-3-631-61386-3 hb.  (Hardcover)

Weight: 0.330 kg, 0.728 lbs

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Book synopsis

The monograph aims for a comprehensive look at the history of «The Big Apple», incorporating material that has come to light since the first edition of this work was published in 1991. The overall picture now is: Apples, always important, became especially so with the appearance of the Big Red Delicious Apple in Iowa, 1870’s. «The Big Apple» therefore came to refer to somebody or something very important. In 1920 an African-American stablehand in New Orleans mentioned in conversation: «We’s goin’ to ‘the big apple’» (NYC racetracks as the big time in horseracing). Turf writer John J. Fitz Gerald overheard this statement and adopted «The Big Apple» (1921ff.) in his columns, popularizing it to refer particularly to the NYC tracks. Secondarily it could refer to big time horseracing in general. In the 1930’s «The Big Apple» was picked up by black jazz musicians to designate NYC in general (and Harlem in particular) as the place where the greatest jazz in the world was being played. And in 1971 Charles Gillett revived «The Big Apple» as part of a public-relations campaign on behalf of NYC. Despite the increasingly clear picture of what happened, various incorrect etymologies have arisen about «The Big Apple». The monograph addresses and rejects them in some detail.


Contents: Chronological listing of «The Big apple» quotes – Apples regarded as very special – John J. Fitz Gerald as the key figure in popularizing «The Big Apple» (NYC racetracks, 1921ff.) – Role of Charles Gillett, 1971 – Tracing the development of «The Big Apple» dance – «Big Apple» incorrect etymologies – Bibliography.

About the author(s)/editor(s)

Gerald Leonard Cohen was born in New York City in 1941. He majored in Russian Civilization at Dartmouth College (1958-1962), received a Diploma in Slavonic Studies at Columbia University (1963) and then studied Slavic linguistics at Columbia University (PhD 1971). He is presently Professor of Foreign Languages at Missouri University of Science and Technology, where his research interests have shifted primarily to etymology.
Barry A. Popik was born in New York City in 1961. He is an attorney by vocation and a word researcher by avocation, whose contributions to such items as «dude», «hot dog», the «Show Me expression», «The Windy City» (Chicago) and numerous items in food terminology have been very favorably received by the scholarly community. He is listed as Senior Consulting Editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink, co-authored Studies in Slang, Part VI and VII and the detailed study Origin of the Term «Hot Dog».