The Grammarphobia Blog

The Big Apple

Q: Why is New York City referred to as the “Big Apple”? As a New Yorker, I feel that I should be able to explain this term to my non-New York friends.

A: The term was popularized in the 1920s by a New York turf writer named John J. Fitz Gerald after he overheard two stable hands using it at a racetrack in New Orleans. In their conversation, the stable hands referred to the New York racing scene and to New York racetracks as “the big apple.” In the 1930’s, the expression was picked up by jazz musicians, who called New York (sometimes Harlem) “the Big Apple.”

In the 1950s the phrase faded into obscurity. It was revived in the 1970s by the New York Convention and Visitors’ Bureau for use in tourism, and it has stuck firmly ever since. In 1997 Mayor Giuliani designated the southwest corner of 54th and Broadway as “Big Apple Corner,” marking the building where Fitz Gerald lived from 1934 to 1963.

Two researchers, Gerald L. Cohen and Barry Popik, are responsible for discovering Fitz Gerald’s role and for tracking down the term to those two stable hands in New Orleans.