Monday, February 24, 2014

The Big Apple

Location:   New York City
Year:   1890s and thereabouts

New York City is, of course, "The Big Apple." But how did it get that name?

There are several theories, none completely provable:

One has to do with a famous 1890s brothel owned by a madam named "Eve."

Another has to do with horse-racing in the early 20th Century, wherein the prizes were referred to as "apples," and New York's larger, more prestigious prizes were called "big apples."

Another has to do with Dixieland Jazz musicians of the 1920s traveling from "The Big Easy" (New Orleans) to play in "The Big Apple" (New York). 

Literary references to "The Big Apple" appear as early as 1909, and the term continued to be used intermittently by certain sportswriters and columnists up until the 1940s. 

The easiest explanation is the simplest. Compared to Peoria, Illinois, Shawnee, Oklahoma, or even little Los Angeles and cutesy-poo Chicago, New York is The Big Apple, the center of cultural gravity in the United States where everything is going on and the opportunities are bigger, better, and more fraught with risk. Success is tough, but it is well worth taking a bite out of The Big Apple. 

As a phrase,  "The Big Apple" faded from memory around the end of World War II. By the 1970s, New York City had become a little faded and a little tattered, and a little too crime-ridden, though nowhere as rundown, violent and vicious as it was portrayed in the media. In an attempt to bolster tourism and investment, the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau decided to invent (or find) a catchy moniker that would spark interest in the city. It was then that some unknown, unthanked bureaucrat rediscovered "The Big Apple" in the dusty archives of The City That Never Sleeps. 

Thank you, Unknown Bureaucrat. 

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