“Everything is Bigger in Texas” –
with stops in New York City, Philadelphia, Nez Perce, Idaho and San Francisco - a History and Etymology of the Phrase
“Everything is bigger in Texas,” they tell me; including their egos, I suppose, since Texans themselves seem to relish in perpetuating the phrase as an expression of their out-sized love of their out-sized state. But although the popularity of the phrase may reflect their big egos (or just the truth; depending on your perspective), the phrase may originally have reflected only the insecurities of a scrawny newspaper writer from New York City. - “New York City?!”
Barry Popik’s online etymology dictionary, The Big Apple, says that the phrase, “everything is bigger in Texas” (and similar variants) was popular by 1950. Although the phrase may have reached a certain level of familiarity or popularity by that date, the Texan attitude relating to the bigness of Texas and things-Texas predates 1950 by many years. The earliest-known appearance of the phrase in print is from 1913, and similar sentiments appeared, in slightly different forms, even earlier.
Remarks by a Texas nursery operator in 1906 expressed the big-in-Texas attitude. In opening comments before the annual meeting of the Association of American Nurserymen, which was held in Dallas, Texas that year, he warned out-of-state attendees about communicating with the locals:
I want to tell you about these Texas nurserymen, and Texas people in general. Don't misconstrue the things which they say to you. When one of them starts talking to you in a manner which in any other country would be called boasting, remember that it is not boasting in Texas. . . . A Texas nurseryman was in New York once and was talking with a New York real estate man. . . . They were going down the street together when the New York man happened to spy some very large pumpkins on the other side of the street.
"Now, just gaze upon these," he said. "Have you got anything in Texas to beat that?" The Texas man said, "What are they, contaloupes?" The New York man said, "Now, look here, Texas, I know you Texas people have got nerve, but you haven't the nerve to tell me that cantaloupes grow that big in Texas." The Texas man said, "What are they?" "They are pumpkins," replied the New York man. The Texas man said, "Why, hell, fellow, the seed get that big in Texas." (Laughter).
Report of Proceedings of the 31st Annual Convention of the American Association of Nurserymen; Commercial Club, Dallas, Texas, June 13, 14 and 15, 1906.
A joke from 1908 reflects the Texas-is-big attitude, with respect to the size of the state itself, without extending the phrase to “everything” from the state:
“Siberia contains one-ninth of all the land on the globe. Great Britain and all Europe except Russia, together with the whole of the United States, could be inclosed within its boundaries,” said the man with the eyeglasses.
“Look here, partner,” said the man with the broad-brimmed hat, “yer don’t mean t’ say it’s bigger’n Texas?” – Yonkers Statesman
Los Angeles Herald, June 4, 1908.
An article about Texas from a financial newspaper went one step further a year earlier; suggesting, in words that might have been used to describe the residents of Lake Wobegon, that:
Men grow bigger in Texas, women more matronly and children healthier, while boys are “chips of the old block." Fruits and flowers come earlier and last longer in Texas. Birds sing sweeter, while sunshine comes nearly every day in the 365. Fresh vegetables are here when snow covers the ground in the east, and cattle find comfortable sheds on the plains all the year round beneath the canopy of heaven. It isn’t a struggle to keep warm in Texas, but it is labor to keep the chickweed from getting ahead of your strawberry patch in the middle of January.
Texas, The Great Lone Star State, Manufacturers’ Record, A Weekly Southern Industrial, Railroad and Financial Newspaper (Baltimore, Maryland), Volume 51, No. 11, March 28, 1907, page 306 (reprinted in, The Western Investors Review, Volume 15, Number 1, June 1908, page 21. (Note: the use of the idiom, "chips of the old block" was not a mis-print; before the idiom became settled as "chip off the old block," it was often, if not usually, rendered, "chip of the old block.")
The phrase found its full expression five years later. The earliest appearance of the phrase, however, was not, as one might expect, penned by a Texan bragging about Texas, but by a New Yorker kvetching about how women from the West, including women from Texas, find the men from New York City to be “hollow-eyed and pale” – “weak and feeble.”
In 1913, Miss Marvel Rainey, of Nez Perces, Idaho, visited the East Coast with stops in New York and Philadelphia. She must have been a woman of some prominence, as, on one of her stops, she met with the Mayor of Philadelphia in an effort to arrange for the Liberty Bell to be exhibited at the Panama-Pacific Exposition (world’s fair) in San Francisco.
Her efforts were not in vain; the Liberty Bell went on a national tour, en-route to and on its return from the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. The bell traversed Idaho from the Utah state line, through Boise and Weiser, before traversing Oregon and into Washington.[i] It then passed nearby Ms. Rainey’s home, Nez Perce, Idaho, on its way to Spokane, Washington,[ii] before turning west, for stops in Everett and Seattle, before continuing southward to the world’s fair in San Francisco. The Liberty Bell has not been moved since returning to Philadelphia after the fair.
In her meeting with the Mayor of Philadelphia, Ms. Rainey reportedly praised the men of Philadelphia as, “a glorious breed compared to the feeble New Yorker.” The criticism was not new; women from Texas and the Pacific Coast had apparently made similar observations in the past. Women from Boston were also critical of New York men, but on intellectual grounds.
In recounting the litany of insults that the men of New York had suffered at the hands of women from everywhere else, a writer for the New York Tribune wrote:
We have heard criticisms similar to this before, as it happens. Texan maidens are always particularly scornful on the point of size. Unless a man has a chest as broad as a sugar barrel they cannot think of draping their fair heads upon him. Everything is bigger in Texas than anywhere else, it seems, so naturally New Yorkers are quite out of scale. The Pacific Coast also sniffs on the question of stature. And now comes Idaho. What Boston thinks of our dull, untutored intellects has often been made plain.
A dwarfed and inferior race we plainly must be. Life as it is lived at such spots as the Forty second Street Country Club is certainly not conducive to bronzed cheeks, clear eyes and stalwart shoulders – or deep thought. That is it, we suppose – the debilitating climate of the Great White Way. How else could the manly heroes from Boston, Texas, Idaho and points north, east, south and west – by whom New York is principally populated – become the pulling youths that our fair visitors decry.
New York Tribune, June 21, 1913.
But while the phrase may not have been coined by a Texan, it just goes to show that even non-Texans realize that - “Everything IS bigger in Texas.”