A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from April 09, 2018
Cab Calloway’s “Hepster’s Dictionary” (1938, 1944)

Cab Calloway (1907-1994) was an American jazz singer and bandleader. He published a “Hepster’s Dictionary” in 1938, with another edition in 1944. The dictionary contained much Harlem slang, including this entry:

“Apple (n.): the big town, the main stem, Harlem.”

New York (NY) Morning Telegraph track writer John J. Fitz Gerald (1893-1963) had been calling the New York racetracks (and New York City, by extension) the “Big Apple” in his newspaper columns since 1921. A nightclub called “Big Apple” opened in Harlem in 1934, at the northwest corner of West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard). The nightclub, opposite the popular Smalls Paradise, spread the “Big Apple” term to Harlem in the 1930s.

In 1937, a “Big Apple” dance craze (started in Columbia, South Carolina) swept Harlem and the rest of the nation, furthering popularizing the “Big Apple” term.

On February 16, 2018, the website Afro.com published a story with this headline:

“New York City’s ‘Big Apple’ Nickname Was Bestowed by Baltimore’s Native Son, Cab Calloway.”

This is not correct. Calloway recorded the “Apple” nickname in 1938, but he did not coin it. “Big Apple” (and just “Apple") had been common enough by 1938 in Harlem and all throughout the United States, so Calloway’s dictionary cannot be said to have first popularized “Big Apple,” either. Nevertheless, Calloway’s dictionary is an important document of 1930s Harlem speech.


Wikipedia: Cab Calloway
Cabell “Cab” Calloway III (December 25, 1907 – November 18, 1994) was an American jazz singer and bandleader. He was strongly associated with the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City, where he was a regular performer.

Calloway was a master of energetic scat singing and led one of the United States’ most popular big bands from the start of the 1930s to the late 1940s. Calloway’s band featured performers including trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Adolphus “Doc” Cheatham, saxophonists Ben Webster and Leon “Chu” Berry, New Orleans guitarist Danny Barker, and bassist Milt Hinton. Calloway continued to perform until his death in 1994 at the age of 86.

OCLC WorldCat record
Cab Calloway’s cat-ologue : a “hepster’s” dictionary.
Author: Cab Calloway
Publisher: [Place of publication not identified] : [publisher not identified], [19--]
Edition/Format: Print book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
The new Cab Calloway’s cat-ologue. [Rev. ed.].
Author: Cab Calloway
Publisher: [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified], 1939, ©1938.
Edition/Format: Print book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
The new Cab Calloway’s hepsters dictionary : language of jive.
Author: Cab Calloway
Publisher: [Place of publication not identified] : [publisher not identified], ©1944.
Edition/Format: Print book : English : 1944 ed

Flashbak
Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary: A Guide To The Language Of Jive (1938)
Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary
(1938) is an introduction to the slang of musicians working in New York’s Harlem. As lexicographer Jonathan Green notes, slang is a “counter-language” used primarily by the poor.
(...)
Apple (n.): the big town, the main stem, Harlem.

Afro.com
New York City’s “Big Apple” Nickname Was Bestowed by Baltimore’s Native Son, Cab Calloway
By Special to the AFRO - February 16, 2018
(...)
Calloway was the first to publish a book of Black slang that explicitly defined “Apple” as New York City: “Apple (n) the big town, the main stem, Harlem.” Under Jim Crow, Harlem was synonymous with New York City for African Americans in that day.

Calloway’s dictionary achieved two million sales worldwide and was the official jive language reference book of the New York Public Library, potentially reaching millions more who borrowed and shared it.
(...)
Baltimore native Cab Calloway gave the world The Big Apple as we know it. Calloway never took credit for promulgating the Big Apple nickname because the term was both hip parlance in his musician’s circles, and everyday speech for millions of African Americans—which is why he included the term in his anthology.

Calloway made it clear in the forward to the 1944 edition of his book of Black slang, “The Hepster’s Dictionary: Language of Jive,” that he is only parroting the words made popular from Black culture.
(...)
Editor’s note:
Camay Calloway Murphy, 91, daughter of Cab Calloway, resides in Baltimore, MD. She is the widow of former AFRO Publisher John H. Murphy, III.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityThe Big Apple1970s-present: False Etymologies • Monday, April 09, 2018 • Permalink