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. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from February 07, 2009
Oxford English Dictionary “Big Apple” definition (September 2008)

In September 2008, the Oxford English Dictionary added a full “Big Apple” definition.
I contributed to some of this, but did not write the definition. (I wasn’t even given a preview.) It is a fine definition, adding new information that was not published in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang, A-G (1994).  There are five separate definitions given for ‘Big Apple,” including “bet a big apple” (a nice addition). The Spanish “manzana principal” has no historical connection to “the Big Apple’ and is thankfully omitted. Overall, it’s a good job.
However, I would have done many things much differently:
. Gerald Cohen’s 1991 Book Title: It is Origin of New York City’s Nickname “The Big Apple”, not “Origins.”
. “Around the Big Apple”: John J. Fitz Gerald’s “Around the Big Apple” column name should have definitely been mentioned in the 1924 citation. The “On the Big Apple” column name of 1928 should also have been mentioned.
. John J. Fitz Gerald’s 1926 ‘Big Apple”: In his second “Big Apple” explanation in 1926, New York Morning Telegraph track writer John J. Fitz Gerald called the term “his phrase” and clearly explained that he first heard it at the New Orleans Fair Grounds from black stablehands. This is important stuff that should have been quoted at length.
. Big Apple Corner: “Big Apple Corner” is never mentioned. New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s remarks should have made the definition. Some of the citations given (1979, 1989, 2006) don’t add anything to the definition.
. Lands of the Big Apple: Many areas of North America vied to be called “Land of the Big Red Apple” from 1890-1920. This is very important information leading up to New York City’s nickname, but few people will know about it.
. Big Apples Are Top of the Barrel: This was a familiar phrase in the 19th and early 20th century—“big apples are top of the barrel.” Again, this popular “apple phrase” will remain unknown to modern readers.
. “Big Town” and “Big Time”: The “Big Apple” phrase is clearly related to the earlier Big Town/Big Time. Neither “big town’ nor “big time” is mentioned.
. Kurt Vonnegut “Big Apple”: Kurt Vonnegut’s 1960s “Big Apple” in Slaughterhouse-Five is a fine citation that deserves to be listed.
. Walter Winchell’s “Big Apple=Broadway”: New York newspaper columnists Walter Winchell and O. O. McIntyre called Broadway “the Big Apple” in the late 1920s and 1930s. “Broadway” should have been mentioned in #2. While OED’s 1927 citation did appear in The Bookman, it’s helpful to know the article’s title and author (Walter Winchell). Omitting O. O. McIntyre’s “Broadway” cites is a mistake.
. Big Apple Dance: The “Big Apple’ dance entry is pretty darn skimpy on details. You’d never know that the dance originated at the Big Apple Night Club in Columbia, South Carolina, or that several Big Apple dance songs and films were made in the 1930s. The “Big Apple” is a circle dance, true, but so is the “hora.” Identifying dance moves (“Suzie Q”) are not mentioned.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
Big Apple, n.
orig. and chiefly U.S. slang.
[< BIG adj. + APPLE n.]

1. to bet a big apple and variants: to state with supreme assurance; to be absolutely confident of. Now rare.
1847 Amer. Farmer Aug. 35 Try it once and we’ll bet you a big apple that you do it every year thereafter for the balance of your life.
1871 Oliver Optic’s Mag. Apr. 264 I’d bet a big apple that Harry and I Could eat them all up, one by one.
1891 Boston Daily Globe 25 Oct. 9 (advt.) We will wager a big red apple that the prices attached to our thousand and one styles are as low or lower than the same quality of goods can be bought elsewhere.
1903 Chicago Daily Tribune 25 July 5 I’ll bet a big red apple that if James R. Keene had had nothing to do with the firm of Talbot J. Taylor & Co. they could have got all the money they needed.
1941 Los Angeles Times 26 Feb. 11 His new one, ‘The Lady Eve’, will wind up as THE comedy of the year, and I’ll bet you a big red apple on it.
2. Something regarded as the most significant of its kind; an object of desire or ambition. Now rare.
1909 E. MARTIN Wayfarer in N.Y. 15 It [sc. the Mid-West] inclines to think that the big apple [sc. New York] gets a disproportionate share of the national sap.
[1911 Chicago Defender 28 Oct. 6 George Hayes and the Clancy Twins are the ‘big apple on the tree’ this week.]
1920 Chicago Defender 15 May 7/1 Ragtime Billy Tucker hasn’t dropped completely out of existence, but is still in the ‘Big Apple’, Los Angeles.
1927 Bookman Dec. 378 To the lonely and aspiring hoofer, the fannie-falling comedian, Broadway is the Big Apple, the Main Stem, the goal of all ambitions.
1944 D. BURLEY Orig. Handbk. Harlem Jive 144 Big Apple..any big town.
1947 Reno (Nevada) Evening Gaz. 17 Nov. 6/3 From Caesar to Franco..there have been military men who have successfully jumped for the big apple.
1965 H. S. THOMPSON Let. 9 June in Proud Highway (1997) 522 Luckily, Sandy is still working and brings in the food and beer money. The big apple at the moment seems to be The Rum Diary, which I have to rewrite at least in part before any of these bastards will send me a cheque.
1971 R. VAUGHAN & M. LYNCH Brandywine’s War 36 He’s going in for the big apple. The Medal of Honor.
1976 R. TELANDER Heaven is Playground (1995) 95 Does he simply get money under the table for delivery? Is he looking for the one big apple to make him rich, or is it something more prestigious, that mythical ‘super-agent’ job?
3. Horse Racing. The New York racing circuit, considered as the pre-eminent one. Also attrib.
1921 J. J. FITZ GERALD in Morning Telegraph (N.Y.) 3 May 9/3 J.P. Smith, together with Tippity Witchet and others of the L.T. Bauer String, is scheduled to start for the ‘big apple’ tomorrow.
1924 J. J. FITZ GERALD in Morning Telegraph (N.Y.) 18 Feb., 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.
1935 San Francisco Call-Bulletin 30 Apr. 15/3 Racing returns to New York’s ‘Big Apple’ circuit.
1953 Washington Post 8 Oct. 25/1 Those were the days when Sande was indeed the incomparable champ of the saddle, who came out of Idaho and the country fairs of Arizona to capture the cheers of racing with his riding feats on the big apple.
1961 N.Y. Herald Tribune 20 Mar. 24/6 Arcaro, Willie Shoemaker, Bouimetis and all the ‘Big Apple’ jocks.
2003 Buffalo (N.Y.) News (Nexis) 10 May D7 Many cannot run fast enough to compete on the ‘Big Apple’ circuit of Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.
4. The city of New York.
Cf. quot. 1909 at sense 2, which, though referring to New York, is part of an extended metaphor and appears to be an isolated use.
For detailed discussion of the history of the expression see G. L. Cohen Origins of New York City’s Nickname ‘The Big Apple’ (1991).
Popularized in 1970 as part of a campaign led by Charles Gillett of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau.
1922 Chicago Defender 16 Sept. 8/1, 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.
1928 N.Y. Times 11 Mar. VIII. 6 The big apple, New York City.
1946 M. MEZZROW & B. WOLFE Really Blues (1957) ix. 170 As soon as we hit The Big Apple we’ll ditch the buggy, and when the New York cops find it your insurance company will have to..ship it back to you.
1961 N.Y. Herald Tribune 21 June 39 (advt.) Big Apple. The nation’s richest market, New York’s Metropolitan area, has more buying power than all of Canada.
1979 United States 1980/81 (Penguin Travel Guides) 114 Many Broadway-bound shows play Chicago before heading for the Big Apple.
1989 T. PARKER Place called Bird xxiii. 288 Well how are you Michael, how’re things, how’s your ma, how’s the Big Apple, all the usual chit chat.
2006 P. FALK Just One More Thing 46 I’ve finally arrived. I’m in the Big Apple playing a big part in a hit play.
5. Jazz. A jazz dance performed in a circle, popular during the late 1930s.
1937 Denton (Maryland) Jrnl. 9 Apr. 4/5 ‘The Big Apple’, sensational dance craze from the south, has taken the nation by storm.
1938 N. COWARD I Went to Marvellous Party in Compl. Lyrics (1998) 196/1 Maurice made a couple of passes at Gus And Freddie who hates any kind of fuss, Did half the Big Apple and twisted his truss.
1958 Publ. Amer. Dial. Soc. 30 48 This term [sc. Apple = New York] gave its name to that defunct dance, the Big Apple.
1996 Condé Nast Traveler June 87/2 The energetic horn section better befits the fox-trots, big apples, and weekly waltz competitions that once graced this floor.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityThe Big Apple1980s-present: Big Apple work by Gerald Cohen, Barry Popik • Saturday, February 07, 2009 • Permalink

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