Posted by Masakim on January 25, 2002
In Reply to: Re: Big smoke derivation posted by Bruce Kahl on January 25, 2002
: : Does anyone know the derivation of "The Big Smoke?" Did it ever refer to just one city?
: : Thank you
: Could you give us/me some context of how your phrase is used?
: Here in the NY area groups of men rent out restaurants, drink heavily, eat steaks, watch football games and smoke cigars and these events are called "Big Smokes" but I think you must mean something else.
In the days before clean-air legislation, when soot was a major component of the urban atmosphere, large metropolises came to be known, particularly to those in the provinces, as _the Smoke_, or _the Big Smoke_. More specifically, London is _the Smoke_ to Britishers, while Australia, where the nickname was first recorded as an Australian Aboriginal term for a city, it is usually applied to Melbourne or Sydney.
From _Names & Nicknames of Places & Things_ by Laurence Urdang.
Big Smoke n. 1 [mid-19C+]
any town. 2 [mid-19C+] LOndon.... 3 [late 19C+] (AAus.) Sydney. 4 [late 19C+]
(Aus.) Melbourne. 5 [1930+] Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. [the pollution and general
dirt associated with a major city. OED suggest orig. Aus. trans. of Aboriginal
_toom-virran_, big smoke]
From _Cassell's Dictionary of Slang_ by Jonathon Green.
At first he has some power of choice in fixing on a resting-place for the night; but, as he gradually leaves behind him the "big smoke" (as the aborigines picturesquly call the town), the accommodations become more and more scanty. (H.W. Haygarth, _Recollections of Bush Life in Australia_, 1848)