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"Big Apple" is a nickname for New York City. It was first popularized in the 1920s by John J. Fitz Gerald, a sports writer for the New York Morning Telegraph. Its popularity since the 1970s is due in part to a promotional campaign by the New York tourist authorities.
Although the history of Big Apple was once thought a mystery, a clearer picture of the term's history has emerged due to the work of amateur etymologist Barry Popik, and Gerald Cohen of Missouri University of Science and Technology. A number of false theories had previously existed, including a claim that the term derived from a woman named Eve who ran a brothel in the city. This was subsequently exposed as a hoax.
The earliest known usage of 'big apple' appears in the book The Wayfarer in New York (1909), in which author Edward S. Martin writes:
William Safire considered this the coinage, but the Random House Dictionary of American Slang has described the usage as "metaphorical or perhaps proverbial, rather than a concrete example of the later slang term".
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The Big Apple was popularized as a name for New York City by John J. Fitz Gerald in a number of horse-racing articles for the New York Morning Telegraph in the 1920s. The earliest of these was a casual reference on 3rd May, 1921:
J. P. Smith, with Tippity Witchet and others of the L. T. Bauer string, is scheduled to start for "the big apple" to-morrow after a most prosperous Spring campaign at Bowie and Havre de Grace.
Fitz Gerald referred to the "big apple" frequently thereafter. He explained his use in a column dated February 18, 1924, under the headline "Around the Big Apple":
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 reference to "dusky" stable hands suggests the term's origin may lie in African-American culture. Evidence for this may be found in the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper that had a national circulation. Writing for the Defender on September 16, 1922, "Ragtime" Billy Tucker used the name "big apple" to refer to New York in a non-horse-racing context:
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.
Tucker had also earlier used "big apple" as a reference to Los Angeles. It is possible that he simply understood "big apple" as a nickname for any large city:
Dear Pal, Tony: No, Ragtime Billy Tucker hasn't dropped completely out of existence, but is still in the 'Big Apple', Los Angeles.
By the late 1920s, New York writers other than Fitz Gerald were starting to use "Big Apple" and were using it in contexts other than horse-racing. "The Big Apple" was a popular song and dance in the 1930s. Walter Winchell and other writers continued to use the term in the 1940s and 1950s, but by the 1960s it had generally come to be known as an old name for New York.
In the early 1970s, however, the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau (now NYC & Company, New York City's official marketing and tourism organization) began to promote the city's "Big Apple" nickname under the leadership of its president, Charles Gillett. It has remained popular since then.
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in 1997 signed legislation designating as "Big Apple Corner" the southwest corner of West 54th Street and Broadway, the corner on which John J. Fitz Gerald lived from 1934 to 1963. As part of the celebrations following as his election as President of the United States in 2016, Donald Trump hosted a party which he named 'The Big Apple Ball' and which featured themed decorations and cut-outs of New York landmarks in honor of his home city.
Today the name enjoys exclusive ubiquity in literature and speech referring to New York City, and is used with regularity by journalists and news-headline writers across the English-speaking world.
In Evita, Buenos Aires is referred to as "B.A., Buenos Aires, Big Apple" in the song Eva, Beware of the City. This line, produced by lyricist Tim Rice, does not appear to reflect any pre-existing usage.
The New York Mets baseball team have featured a "Home Run Apple" that rises whenever a Mets player hits a home run. It has become a symbol of the Mets baseball team, recognized throughout Major League Baseball as an iconic feature of the Mets' stadiums. It first appeared in Shea Stadium, and the original can still be seen on display at Citi Field, outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Citi Field now uses a new apple, one that is much larger than original.
Uses of the term abound elsewhere in the names of cultural products and events in or concerning New York, including the Big Apple Anime Fest, the Big Apple Theater Festival, Jess Teong's The Kid from the Big Apple and Kajagoogoo's Big Apple, and playful uses of the nickname have been seen, such as Patrick Downey's 2008 historical study of New York City's criminal underworld, entitled Bad Seeds in the Big Apple.
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