October 04, 2015 04:57 UTC

Words and Their Stories

Words and Their Stories: Nicknames for New York City

The Statue of Liberty is one of the most popular places to visit in the Big Apple
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most popular places to visit in the Big Apple


Play or download an MP3 of this story

Now the VOA Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

A nickname is a shortened form of a person's name. A nickname also can be a descriptive name for a person, place or thing. Many American cities have nicknames. These can help establish an identity, spread pride among citizens and build unity.

A few years ago, some marketing and advertising experts were asked to name the best nickname for an American city. The winner was the nation’s largest city, New York. The top nickname was the Big Apple.

You might wonder how New York got this nickname. In the early nineteen seventies, the city had many problems. The number of visitors was falling. So a campaign was launched to give the city a new image. The head of the New York Conventions and Visitors Bureau decided to call the city, The Big Apple.

There are several explanations for where this name came from. Language expert Barry Popik studied the question and wrote about it on his website. He says John Fitz Gerald, a writer for a New York newspaper, used the name the Big Apple to mean New York in the nineteen twenties. Mr. Fitz Gerald wrote about horse races. He heard the name used by men who worked at a racetrack in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Mister Fitz Gerald wrote: “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.”

In horse racing, the expression meant “the big time,” the place where large amounts of money could be won. The Big Apple became the name of a night club in the Harlem area of New York City in nineteen thirty-four. It also was the name of a popular dance and a hit song in the nineteen thirties.

But it is not the only nickname for America’s largest city. Barry Popik’s website lists almost one hundred nicknames that describe New York. The best known are the Capital of the World. Empire City. Gotham. The City So Nice They Named It Twice. And the City That Never Sleeps. You can hear about the city in the song, “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra.


This program was written by Shelley Gollust. I'm Barbara Klein. You can find more WORDS AND THEIR STORIES at voaspecialenglish.com.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Audio Kenyan Church Welcomes LGBT Members

    In early September, the Anglican Church of Kenya cancelled the license of clergymen suspected of homosexuality. Some feared that Kenyan churches do not welcome homosexuals. But one location offers religious services to gays, homosexuals, bisexual and transgender people. More

  • Video Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

    California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. More

  • Video Father of Oregon Victim Says Gunman Targeted Christians

    U.S. officials are investigating an attack Thursday at a college in rural southern Oregon. Officials identified the gunman as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer. They said he killed at least nine people at Umpqua Community College. More

  • Audio Cecil the Lion Could Help Protect Other Animals

    The head of the animal rights group Born Free USA says the killing of Cecil the lion put a face on issues conservation groups have been addressing for years. Current campaigns aim to stop trophy hunting and cruelty to elephants in Africa. More

  • Audio China Restricts Reporting on Guangxi Bombings

    The attacks killed at least seven people and injured 50 others. Critics say it is common for a Chinese official to try to limit the spread of bad news, especially when it happens at a sensitive time. The government also moved to restrict search keywords related to the bombings or the suspect. More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Everyday Grammar: Comparatives and Superlatives

    When we want to compare things we use comparative and superlative forms. Find out some of rules and exceptions of these important forms in Everyday Grammar for this week. More

  • Video ‘The Martian’ Mixes Science, Science Fiction

    Hollywood's latest space operation gone wrong movie stars Matt Damon as an astronaut mistakenly left on Mars. The film is a hit with movie critics. But what do science critics think? More

  • The Open Boat by Stephen Crane, Part 2

    Video The Open Boat by Stephen Crane, Part Two

    We continue the story of “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane. As we told you last week, the story is based on true events. In eighteen ninety-six, Crane was traveling to Cuba as a news reporter. On his way there, his ship sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Crane climbed into the last remaining lifeboat. More

  • Audio Great Barrier Reef Choking on Pollutants

    The Great Barrier Reef is off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia. It is the largest living organism on Earth. However, the reef is being damaged by climate change and pollutants from farms that flow into the reef. More

  • Caffeine could help your memory.

    Audio Coffee Before Bed Does More Than Keep You Awake

    Sleep is important for our mental and physical health. But, an internationally popular drug may interfere with that. Caffeine is found in coffee and other foods and drink. Researchers now say to be careful about when you drink it! More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner
Confessions of an English Learner blog

Tell us About Our Programs