First person: The Big Orange: If not, what is London's best nickname?

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The Independent Online
At school, I never had a nickname. Lots were tried, but none stuck. At the time, I was extremely grateful, having observed the effects of an ill-considered witticism on my classmate Michael 'Ignor' Amos. Lately, though, I have wondered whether I just wasn't well enough liked.

The same thing applies to London. Various nicknames have been applied to the big city, but none has stuck. The nearest we get is The Smoke, first recorded in 1864 and surviving today, the Clean Air Acts notwithstanding.

Mostly, though, when Londoners want a familiar way of mentioning their place of residence they say 'town'. But this can be offensive.

People in the regions have towns of their own, some of them even equipped with cinemas and theatres and electric lighting. However, you say it, referring to 'town' makes you sound like a minor character in

P G Wodehouse.

Now, though, the publishers of a free London paper have come up with the idea of calling the city 'The Big Orange'. I asked Peter Grimsditch, editor of Tonight, why that, and he said: 'If New York can have the Big Apple, we can have the Big Orange.'

It's not just the lack of invention, the slavish plagiarism, that is so embarrassing. It's also the fact that it's so inappropriate. Big? Well, we can all agree with that. But Orange? What's orange about it?

'The Big Apple' was manufactured, sure enough, but it has the advantage of meaning something. New York's conventions and visitors bureau pushed it hard during the 1970s, basing it on the slang of jazzmen in the Twenties and Thirties who would talk about taking 'a bite out of the big apple' when playing in the city. The apple is a symbol of affection, as in 'apple of my eye' or 'an apple for teacher'. And, of course, apples are sinful, redolent of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge. Just like New York.

Oranges, on the other hand, are only fruit.

Every city in America has any number of nicknames, most deliberately invented by civic dignitaries with nothing better to do. They don't stick, by and large, otherwise New York would today be called 'The Cleanest Big City in the World' or 'The City of Friendly People'.

What is needed is something with a bit of history behind it that accords with people's experience. Which is why I lean towards the harsh but true description by William Cobbett in 1830. He, you recall, called London 'The Great Wen'.

Now that I can see on a T-shirt.