While it may be tacky to refer to our City as The Big Apple, and it’s really something only tourists do, in the not-so-distant past locals were proud to call it as such. How did it get that nickname anyway? Some excellent sleuthing by New York Public Library historian Carmen Nigro reveals much about the origins of the moniker, it’s rise in use amongst local vernacular, and it’s commercial adaptation.
The “Big Apple” as a nickname for New York City really takes hold in the 1920s jazz era. The term, already in popular meaning as betting on a sure thing, makes its way to racetracks in the early 1920s. John J. Fitz Gerald, a reporter who wrote a regular racing column in the New York Morning Telegraph, referred to the New York racing circuit as the Big Apple—a proper noun. He is credited for popularizing the term, and in 1924 he wrote, “The Big Apple, the dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There’s only one Big Apple. That’s New York.” Fitz Gerald’s racing term complies with the original slang definition in his usage, since he is certainly expressing that he thinks the races are to be regarded as the most significant of their kind. Fitz Gerald titled the column “Around the Big Apple.”
Read the rest of the short but fascinating article on the New York Public Library Blog.