Letters

On Mondays, we read from our email. Many messages were in response to our Thanksgiving shows about returning home for the holidays, and the NPR series, This I Believe.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

On Mondays we read from your e-mails.

Last Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving with stories about homecomings. Here's one we didn't have time to get to. `My favorite homecoming was from the late 1960s,' wrote Becky Link(ph). `I was raised in Oklahoma and after college moved to New York. This, of course, was when families would go to the airport in large groups to meet people coming in on a plane. I'd carefully chosen my fashions for the arrival, a young Edwardian minidress with a hem that barely brushed my fingertips as I walked. Entering the terminal with my best runway model swagger, I immediately spotted my 6'4" father who had spotted me and was removing his sports coat as quickly as he could. I left the terminal wrapped in that enormous sports coat, much to my chagrin. No one in that part of the US had seen hemlines that short and Daddy was sure I'd just forgotten my skirt.'

We also got a lot of response to our Thanksgiving Day show about the NPR series This I Believe. Jan wrote in a contribution. `My husband and I are making pies for Thanksgiving dinner listening to your program. We're also dog-sitting, which means we have two dogs in a small busy kitchen, which brought me to my belief it's better to have a dog underfoot than a foot under a dog.'

We also heard from Lindy Huffman(ph). `The show has just ended. I'm wondering if there's an anthology of essays from the very beginning. Do you know?' Well, the answer is yes, you can find an anthology of the essays for the recent series, as well as selected essays from the historical archives or Edward R. Murrow's original series at www.npr.org/thisibelieve.

A week ago we talked about a book called "The Works," which is about the myriad systems that make The Big Apple tick. As an aside, one listener called in to ask about the origin of that phrase, `The Big Apple.' And several of you were quick to respond with answers. From Shannan Bera(ph), `I believe NYC was named The Big Apple during the Depression. It had something to do with selling apples when people had nothing.' Chris in Tallahassee, Florida, had another theory. `The term "Big Apple" is a jazz term coming from the saying "Apple of my eye." All jazz musicians wanted to play in New York City as a show of status. Only the best played in New York City.' And from Mark Walter in Albion, Michigan, `In earlier times, the jackpots at race tracks were called "the apple." New York had the biggest jackpot and so it was called "The Big Apple."'

Well, joining us now is Professor Gerald Cohen, who teaches at the University of Missouri-Rolla, where he specializes in the history of words, and he joins us from his office.

Nice to have you on the program.

Professor GERALD COHEN (University of Missouri): Happy to be here.

CONAN: I understand you've done some serious research into the term `The Big Apple.' Are any of our correspondents correct?

Prof. COHEN: No, they're not. One of them is partially correct, when he or she said that it derives from the jazz scene. It's only partially correct because it was revived in 1971 by a name named Charles Gillett. He was president of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, and he said that he derived it from the jazz scene of the 1930s. However, the term was already used in the 1920s to refer to the New York City race tracks, and it's in the context of the New York City race tracks that the term really has its beginning.

CONAN: And is it as our correspondent suggested? Does it relate to the size of the prizes?

Prof. COHEN: No. No, it has nothing to do with it. There was a man named John J. Fitzgerald. He was the turp(ph) writer, wrote for the Morning Telegraph, and in 1920 he had been down in New Orleans, and he heard two African-American stable hands having a conversation. And one of them had mentioned to the other that they were headed for The Big Apple, and he was referring to the New York City racetracks. And in those days, the New York City race tracks were the absolute peak of racing. Every trainer, every jockey would want to get to The Big Apple, so The Big Apple was in essence the big treat. It was the equivalent of three scoops of ice cream for a 10-year-old.

CONAN: Professor Cohen, thanks very much for clarifying that for us.

Prof. COHEN: Happy to do it.

CONAN: Gerald Cohen teaches at the University of Missouri-Rolla.

And finally, we got a lot of e-mail about our format experiment last week. My wife, Liane Hansen, of "Weekend Edition Sunday" joined me to co-host the program. Most response was positive. Ted Cruiser(ph) of Minnesota applauded our shameless ploy to spend some time together. He wrote, `I have enjoyed the partnership of Neal and Liane this week. Each is a champion in their own right, but working together seems to produce much more than one plus one equals two. I think as listeners, we get a three or a four.'

Curt Collins(ph) was among those who disagreed. `With all due respect, please do not add Liane Hansen. Neal does not need a co-host. It breaks up the continuity of the show.' Well, thanks for that, Curt, but I have to say it feels a little lonely in the studio today.

If you have questions, comments or corrections for us, the best way to reach us is by e-mail. The address is totn@npr.org. Please include your name and where you're writing from.

(Credits)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

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