The Big Apple Explained
Day 036 – August 27, 2011
I have begun my quest to master (or at least quasi-understand) the Spanish language as I signed up for a two-part Spanish immersion course. This is the type of “sink-or-swim” class where the teacher speaks nothing but the target language and the students cannot speak their native tongue.
We had ninety minutes of class instruction and then we all piled into a van for a guided tour (solely in Spanish) of the center of Lima. Pictures from that excursion will be highlighted in another posting because this ramble will be about my discovery for a possible answer to a question that has nagged me for some time.
That query is, “Why is New York City called ‘The Big Apple’?”
Trust me, I will be able to bring a question about the city so nice they named it twice back to the subject of the Spanish language.
There are more than a few websites that claim to have the answer as to why New York City has a nickname that ties it to a juicy red fruit.
This posting from About.com is one of many that states that ‘apple’ was a term for horse racing venues, of which there were many in New York City, at the start of the 20th century.
Infoplease says the term was coined by Edward Martin in 1909 as he used it in a metaphor to describe how New York City received a disproportionate share of the sap from the country’s tree of wealth which, then, was rooted in the Mississippi Valley.
The Wikipedia entry for Big Apple contains these and other explanations as the origin of the term “The Big Apple”. What I found intriguing in that article was the notation that the fruity moniker was used in a reference to Los Angeles.
This brings up the possibility that the phrase “Big Apple”, circa 1920, meant any large city, but its use towards the City of Angels brings up a more interesting answer.
As I learned in today’s immersion class (see…I told you I could bring it full circle), the Spanish word for a square city block is manzana. The Spanish word for “apple” is exactly the same – manzana.
I can imagine that when Los Angeles was a boom town in the 1920s with Spanish-speaking immigrants and visitors (among others) coming into this Californian city, that they saw how large the city was, how large the city blocks were, and may have dubbed the city “La Manzana Grande”. They were saying how large the urban blocks were, but English-speaking folk mistranslated the manzana as “apple” and that is how any large city became known as “The Big Apple.”
The term made its way East and Gotham writers took up the nickname to refer to their city, which they saw as the biggest apple in the nation.
Of course I have no proof of this other than my own hyper-active imagination, but it did make me pay attention for the rest of the class to see what other conundrums I could solve.