DEAR ABBY: I can help out your reader who asked why New York City is called "the Big Apple."
Attorney/word sleuth Barry Popick spotted two 1920s articles which clarify that John J. FitzGerald, racing editor for the New York Morning Telegraph -- a leading horse-racing newspaper of the day that later became the Daily Racing Form -- heard "the big apple" mentioned in a conversation between two African-American stable hands in New Orleans (January 1920). The term referred to the New York City racetracks as the big time in horse racing.
FitzGerald picked up the term and popularized it in his newspaper, still in reference to the NYC racetracks.
In the 1930s, black jazz musicians then applied the term to Harlem specifically, and New York City in general, as the big time in jazz.
In 1971, Charles Gillett, president of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, revived the term as part of a public relations campaign on behalf of New York City. He readily acknowledged deriving "the Big Apple" from the 1930s jazz scene.
The term itself goes back ultimately to the big red Delicious apples developed in Iowa in the 1870s. They were regarded as something extra-special. And for jockeys active in the "bushes," the New York City tracks represented the big time, the big treat they looked forward to, i.e., "the big apple." -- GERALD COHEN, PROFESSOR OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-ROLLA
P.S. I am the former president of the American Name Society. Your 1988 column on "the Big Apple" was the stimulus that led to my research on the term: a book (1991) and two updates.
DEAR PROFESSOR COHEN: Thanks for straightening this out. I heard from several readers offering varied explanations about the origin of the nickname for New York City. Helen Tovey of Summerville, S.C., described a Harlem nightclub called the Big Apple that she had seen in 1936 and which had a big red apple over the entrance. She included a Roxy Theater program, dated Sept. 3, 1937, in which was featured a new dance called "The Big Apple -- introduced by the contest winners from the colleges of North and South Carolina."
I also heard from Barry Popick, author of the article on the Big Apple published in the January/February issue of Irish America magazine, which is fitting since the name was popularized by an Irishman. Mr. Popick related that on Jan. 29, he appeared before the New York City Council in support of a permanent "Big Apple Corner" street sign at West 54th Street and Broadway, John J. FitzGerald's address for the last 30 years of his life. (The measure was approved.)
If anybody has any information about Mr. FitzGerald, Mr. Popick can be contacted at bapopik(at)aol.com. Mr. Popick also mentioned that my original 1988 "Big Apple" column was what got everything started. Howda ya like them apples!