A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from April 03, 2005
Big Smoke (London, UK nickname)
"The Big Smoke" (or, "the Great Smoke") is London, England -- a city known for its fog. "The Big Smoke" dates earlier than "the Big Apple," but London's nickname is used informally and much less often. "When I came to consciousness I at first thought I was at home in the 'the big smoke'" was printed in many newspapers in 1853. "A map of the environs of the 'big smoke,' a the Yankees do us the favor occasionally to speak of our capital" was printed in the Nottinghamshire Guardian (London, UK) on May 18, 1877.

The nickname "Big Smoke" was used frequently during the "Great Smog of London" (December 5-9, 1952).

Toronto, Canada, is also called the "Big Smoke."


Wikipedia: London
London is the capital and largest city of both England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

London is considered to be one of the world's most important global cities and has been termed the world's most powerful, most desirable, most influential, most visited, most expensive, innovative, sustainable, most investment friendly, most popular for work, and the most vegetarian friendly city in the world. London exerts a considerable impact upon the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, tourism and transportation.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
big smoke, n.
Usually with capital initials. With the. London. In later use also denoting various other large industrial cities, esp. Toronto. Cf. smoke n. 1d.
1853 Times 14 Dec. 9/6 When I came to consciousness I at first thought I was at home in the ‘the big smoke’; but gradually the truth forced itself upon me.
1889 Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago) 14 Nov. 4/4 The New York Sun..goes on to declare that ‘some of her [sc. Chicago's] statesmen have prepared a bill..in hope of bamboozling [Congress] into believing that the Big Smoke is a good place in which to hold the world's fair’.
1917 E. Miller Diary 24 Apr. in Camps, Tramps & Trenches (1939) x. 61 My first day in ‘the Big Smoke’..
the smoke, a colloquial name for London. Cf. big smoke n.
1864 J. C. Hotten Slang Dict. (new ed.) 237 Country-people when going to the Metropolis say they are on their way to the Smoke.
1903 J. S. Farmer & W. E. Henley Slang VI. ii. 270 The Smoke = any large city: spec. London: also The Great Smoke.

17 December 1853, The Illustrated London News (London, UK), "Life at the Digging," pg. 521, col. 3:
When I came to consciousness I at first thought I was at home in the "the big smoke;" but gradually the truth forced itself upon me.

Google Books
June 1868, Fraser's Magazine, pg. 738, col. 1:
The country is the natural birthplace of lyric poetry; the dwellers in the Big Smoke ought to be solaced with sweet songs of wholesome life and nature, and not the country contaminated by the ugly selfishness and vulgar satire of the city.

18 May 1877, Nottinghamshire Guardian (London, UK), "New Books and New Editions," pg. 7, col. 6:
It (Herbert's Illustrated Guide to London -- ed.) contains a well got up and printed street map of London, plans of the Metropolitan and District Railways, and a map of the environs of the "big smoke," a the Yankees do us the favor occasionally to speak of our capital, within a radius of five and twenty miles.

27 May 1879, Belfast (Ireland) News-Letter, pg. 8, col. 3:
TRAINS ON WHIT MONDAY.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE BELFAST NEW-LETTER.
SIR -- Whit Monday being a Bank and Stock Exchange holiday, many officials would like to avail themselves of the opportunity of seeing their friends in the country, or going to see their friends in the "big smoke."
(...)
ONE WHO HOPES THEY WILL.

10 February 1898, Melbourne (Australia) Punch,"Lady's Letter," pg. 123, col. 3:
Should the great tragedy be staged as it was here at the Princess' Theatre, folks in the Big Smoke will have some idea of "how they do these things" in far-away Australia.

24 February 1898, Melbourne (Australia) Punch, pg. 158, col. 2:
ARTIST DAVIES, who last year went to London with the intention of settling there or in Paris, is returning to Melbourne. Both the big smoke and the Boulevards failed utterly to give him inspiration.

29 May 1900, The Evening Argus (Montpelier, VT), pg. 2, col. 4:
London's Big Smoke Cloud.
Every day there hangs over London a vast smoke cloud that is estimated to weigh about 300 tons.

2 October 1907. The Daily Province (Vancouver, BC), pg. 14, col. 7:
TOMMY BURNS SAYS HE WILL FIGHT GUNNYER MOIR FOR THE TITLE
(...)
Tommy is going to "the big smoke" London to fulfil a ten weeks' engagement on the music hall stage.

4 July 2003, Mirror (London), "We will slay the smoking Goliath" by Christopher Hitchens, pg. 5:
WHEN I was a lad - older readers may want to moan with nostalgia here - London was known as "the Big Smoke".

It was a nickname as tenacious as the Big Apple but much more intelligible.

In those days, especially in the winter months, fog and smog blanketed the place.

Dickens described it best at the opening of Bleak House. His cabmen used to refer to especially choking and enveloping versions as "a London particular".

A bit of smoke and a bit of fog was part of London pride. It was duplicated in the delightful blue haze, sometimes admittedly a bit yellow at the edges, which greeted the visitor to a pub or saloon.

Posted by Barry Popik
Nicknames of Other PlacesBig Smoke (London, England and Toronto, Canada nickname) • Sunday, April 03, 2005 • Permalink