I learn from Stone the Crows, the just-released second edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang, that some people in the 1930s exclaimed “Gordon Bennett!” to express their astonishment or exasperation. The words are taken from the names of the disreputable father and louche son newspaper editors James Gordon Bennett Sr. and Jr. The expression was derived from “Cor blimey!” which in turn was a corruption of “God blind me!” Alas, the dictionary gives no usage examples in this case.
(In other entries, though, the usage examples are plentiful and highly readable, as for example: “There’s some blooming Parisian couturier coming to see her. . . . To hear her talk you’d think a bunch of corn slicers and foreign poodle-fakers was more important than solving the crime of the century.”)
UPDATE (2pm): Lance Knobel of Davos Newbies writes that “You don’t have to go back to the ’30s. I lived in London 1980-2005 and there were certainly instances where I heard ‘Gordon Bennett’ used as a substitute for something harsher.” And Knobel emails a few recent examples:
Some nice uses:
- In a Guardian minute-by-minute account of a football game (soccer) — see ET8 minutes
- Also in The Guardian, a debunking article on a sham technology company
- A lovely line from The Daily Telegraph, reporting on hostility in genteel Southwold to Gordon Brown’s holiday plans: “Gordon Brown? Gordon Bennett!”
It’s clear that it’s still in frequent use.
This is brilliant. My own research into James Gordon Bennett leads me to feel there’s something very fitting about his becoming, in his afterlife, an expletive.
FURTHER UPDATE (4pm): A poodle-faker, by the way, is defined as “Someone who cultivates female society, esp. for professional advancement.” Will Chandler writes:
The corn slicers and foreign poodle-fakers in your Gordon Bennett post reminded me of a friend’s anecdote about his father and grandfather, who were wealthy New Yorkers (my friend still has his late mother’s 23-room apartment overlooking the Metropolitan). In the late 1930s my friend’s father was at Columbia, and he and his friends were very excited about Benny Goodman’s new arrangements. He invited his father to accompany them to the Carnegie Hall concert. His father declined the invitation with
some horror, and chided him for spending so much time with “that bunch of golden-armed, finger-popping jazzbos.”
2 thoughts on “Gordon Bennett!”
My roommate's name is actually Gordon Bennett. He said that no one believed when he gave his name on a trip to England.
My dad's nickname was Jazz Bow when he was Columbia in the early 50s. It refers to a bow tie that lights up–I hope this wasn't his trade mark, but where there's smoke there's fire.
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