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 19, 2018
Tightening of Adam’s Apple (suggested in 1978)

It is sometimes claimed that in the sports and entertainment worlds, when someone would play in New York City (the big time), the performer’s Adam’s apple would tighten, and, from this, New York City was called the “Big Apple.” No date for this purported “Big Apple” origin is given, but the theory was suggested in a letter to the New York (NY) Times on July 19, 1978.

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.

Baseball players (and players of others sports) have talked about “(Adam’s) apple comes up” since at least 1941, “take the apple” since at least 1971 and “feel the apple” since at least 1984. There are no citations connecting these terms to the “Big Apple” nickname of New York City.

The “Big Apple” term was not used by Harlem’s jazz musicians until the 1930s. There is no printed record of a “Big Apple” connection to a performer’s Adam’s apple.


Wikipedia: Adam’s apple
The Adam’s apple, or laryngeal prominence, is a feature of the human neck, and is the lump or protrusion that is formed by the angle of the thyroid cartilage surrounding the larynx seen especially in males.

13 January 1920, Minneapolis (MN) Morning Tribune, “The Cafe Coat Girl” by Leah Evans, pg. 20, col. 7:
“Frenchy, when a guy is in love his Adam’s apple comes up and sits on his tongue and laughs at his attempts to speak, his collar wilts and the perspiration runs down the sides of his face, and when he tries to wipe it off he gets out his handkerchief and dusts off his shoes.”

22 November 1932, Shamokin (PA) Daily News, “In New York” by Gilbert Swan, pg. 4, col. 2:
New York—When the curtain went up the other night on “Music in the Air,” latest of the music hits, it revealed the character of a Warfieldian music character of Bavaria. Here was a fellow with that choke in the Adam’s apple with a sense of clownery one minute and a tear the next.

22 April 1938, The Evening Telegram (Rocky Mount, NC), “Dorothy Dix Says,” pg. 8, col. 1:
These youths choke up on their Adams’ apple when they try to ask Angelina or Mary Jane to be theirs.

8 April 1941, The Daily Home News (New Brunswick, NJ), “Of All Things” by Ed Olly, pg. 8, col. 4:
When the Apple Comes Up
The more imaginative and high-strung the bowler the worse is the “pressure” or mental tension. It is under these circumstances that “the apple” is likely to come up, to borrow from the jargon of sport another highly descriptive term. It is the Adam’s apple on the neck which is referred to, that little ungainly bump which under stress of emotion seems to rise and choke its owner. When the “apple” comes up the man breaks down, his nerves get the better of him, and he does not roll 300.

24 June 1943, Miami (FL) Herald, “Spotlighting Sports” by Everett Clay, pg. 2B, col. 3:
Diamond Definitions—the vocabulary of words and phrases used to describe incidents, individuals and plays of baseball—is brought up to date in the 1943 Baseball Guide and Record Book.
(...)
Apple Comes Up—Fails in pinch (swallows his Adam’s apple).

11 September 1967, Philadelphia (PA) Daily News, “No Neck Won’t Take the Lump” by Stan Hochman, pg. 57, col. 1L
September, says the dugout cynic, is the time when some players"take the lump...choke up...swallow the apple.” Whatever the phrase, the implication is there that pennant pressure affects some players so harshly they find it hard to do something so automatic as swallowing.

28 July 1971, Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, “Hartoin, Thomas Lead YGA Firing” by Barry McDermott, pg. 23, col. 2:
“The thing that scared me going to the back nine was that I might take the ‘apple’ or choke.”
(Spoken by golfer Jeff Thomas.—ed.)

10 April 1975, Washington (DC) Post, “Golf: A Great Gallery of Old Masters” by Bob Addie, pg. F6, col. 3:
“By that I mean if a young guy is leading. he’s bound to take the apple (choke up) with all that distraction.”
(Spoken by golfer Dave Stockton.—ed.)

19 July 1978, New York (NY) Times, “Letters,” pg. C13, col. 1:
TO THE LIVING SECTION:
To someone who grew up in New York City (the Bronx), during the 40’s, there has never been any doubt or controversy as to how the “Big Apple” got its name.

The term originated as a sports-related expression and referred to a player “choking in the clutch.” It has to do with the tightness and dryness that was felt near the Adam’s apple in a tense situation, When playing stickball or basketball, we often said, “He got the apple” or “got the big apple” when a crucial foul shot was missed, or a batter failed to deliver with the winning run on base.

The term was applied more generally to all-star athletes from other parts of the country. They would appear in Madison Square Garden and “choke up” in the big city. Show business performers who did well on the traveling circuit finally got their chance in the Big Time—or faced “the Big Apple.” Those who finally succeeded knew they could make it anywhere. For corroboration, just ask Willie Mays.

NORMAN DVOSKIN
Woodbury, N. Y.

4 January 1981, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, “Falcons’ vow: We won’t choke against Cowboys” by Ed Hinton, pg. 1D, col. 2:
The slang terms are the same whatever the sport: “Choke...take the apple...fall apart...fold.”

22 October 1984, News Journal (Mansfield, OH), “Sportscene” by Hal Lebovitz, pg. 1-C, col. 4:
MYSELF: I have never said another athlete or a team has choked. I mean feel the apple.

30 January 1991, Green Bay (WI) Press-Gazette, “Kewaunee assumes command” by Mike Dauplaise, pg. C-1, col. 2:
“I think this team is a real uptight team,” Schanhofer said. “When the lights get bright and the time gets prime, these kids feel the apple, and it’s big.”

Google Groups: nyc.general
Big Apple - why the name ?
Lawrence Lustig
10/8/96
Michael Beckmann wrote:
>Subject says it all. I would like to know why New York is often referred
>to as the Big Apple. I must admit that I have no clue. “When the lights get bright and time gets prime, these kids feel the apple, and it’s big.”

This is the explanation I’ve seen in several guidebooks: Jazz musicians would refer to an important gig as “an apple” or “getting an apple” because you’d get a case of nerves, swallow hard, and show your Adam’s Apple.

I think this is pretty stupid (I could be wrong, but it does sound ridiculous)

Google Groups: alt.folklore.urban
The Big Apple
Charles Bakouche
11/14/00
My english teacher (born in Brooklyn) has another story about this
Edith Roques wrote :

> Yes, I have heard and read in several sources that the
> Big Apple
> stood for your Adam’s apple and that when you
> had
> stagefright, your Adam’s apple got really tight,
> big, whatever.
> In the 30s and 40s, all and any major play, musical concert,
> etc., was only
> really successful if it played on Broadway or the jazz halls
> of New York
> City.  The blacks would talk about playing in ‘the big apple’,
> meaning
> playing in NYC.  If you give me more time, I think that there
> even is an
> old TOEFL test - part C - that also talks about this.  Bye for
> now, Edith
> Roques

Google Books
The 20th Century Muse
BY Annette Vezin and Luc Vezin
New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams
2003
Pg. 1222:
As Laurent de Wilde recounted in his essay on Monk, the two entities were so inseparable to that point that, according to legend, it was jazz musicians who nicknamed the city the “Big Apple” “because when you come there to play, you better be sure you’re ready, or you’ll feel a lump in your throat you can’t swallow, a big Adam’s apple. lf this story is true, then we need to rename the city. The Big Balls seems more appropriate to me.”

5 September 2005, Washington (DC) Post, “Are You Experienced?” by Thomas Boswell, pg. E1:
In baseball, you are said to “take the apple”—an expression for choking under the pressure of expectations.

YouTube
Louis Vuitton City Guide 2011 - New York, the Big Apple (English Version)
Louis Vuitton
Published on Sep 30, 2010
0:35
“They also say that Harlem jazz musicians used this expression to refer to the knot they’d feel in their Adam’s apple due to stage fright about performing in posh Manhattan music halls.

Google Books
The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (Third Edition)
By Paul Dickson
New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
2011
Pg. 23:
apple comes up Failure to accomplish a desired result in a key situation. The term is a reference to one’s Adam’s apple; to choke. See also feel the apple.
Pg. 315:
feel the apple To choke under the pressure of expectations. The term is a reference to one’s Adam’s apple. See also apple comes up. Var. “feel the apple in his throat.” Syn. take the apple.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityThe Big Apple1970s-present: False Etymologies • Thursday, April 19, 2018 • Permalink