This nickname for New York City comes from the name of a village in Nottinghamshire, England. Gotham is from the Old English gat (goat) + ham (homestead) or hamm (enclosure, pen).
Gotham has also been, since the mid-15th century, a term for a place with foolish inhabitants. The “wise men of Gotham” is a common sarcastic allusion. Whether this usage actually stemmed from the real village in Nottinghamshire, or was just a name randomly adopted for the purpose is not known. From The Towneley Mysteries (c.1460):
Now god gyf you care, foles all sam, Sagh I neuer none so fare bot the foles of gotham.
(Now God give you care, fools all together, I never saw none so fair as the fools of Gotham.)
Washington Irving was the first to apply the term to New York in his 1807 satirical work Salmagundi:
Chap. cix. of the chronicles of the renowned and antient [sic] city of Gotham.
Irving was relying on readers to recognize the tradition that Gotham was home to simpletons.
Copyright 1997-2017, by David Wilton