Why do we say ‘Gordon Bennett’?

Now, this is a good story. I may as well add now that no one is sure whether this is where the phrase originated, as the man himself died sixty some odd years before its use began. With that in mind, here we go… in the mid 1800s there was a Scottish newspaper tycoon by the name of James Gordon Bennett Sr. But like all good tycoons his story takes place in America. New York to be exact. After some work in the newspaper trade he eventually began his own paper, ‘The Herald’. It was a very successful newspaper and when he passed the business on to his son, Gordon Bennett Jr., it was the most circulated paper in the US. But Bennett Jr. wasn’t really a newspaper man, he was a playboy of the highest order, and was known for his drunkeness and flamboyance. He liked to sail and won the first trans-oceanic yacht race in 1866. In 1869 he raised the profile of ‘The Herald’ by funding Stanley’s search for Livingstone. But in 1877 he attended a party held by his fiancee’s father, where he apparently entered drunk and peed in the fireplace. He was probably on thin ice to start with but after this the engagement was called off, and he moved to Europe where he started the ‘Paris Herald’. But he did eventually return to New York to fund what seems like numerous sporting clubs and trophies, for car racing, soccer, ballooning. He died aged 77, only four years after he finally got married.

Because of his exploits his name regularly reached the newspapers. And in the way you might say ‘bloody hell, have you seen this in the paper?’, people would say ‘Gordon Bennett, you should see what that boy’s been up to’. And so his name became synonymous with shock or annoyance, and found form as a euphemism.

Some people like to say that ‘Gordon Bennett’ might have grown out of ‘gawd’ or ‘gawd dammit’. But this is a far better story. Not that I prefer a good story over the truth, it’s just that if nobody’s sure where the expression originated from, then why not tell a story about a man who publically pissed in a fireplace? (some people even say it was the grand piano, which is infinitely funnier.)

(The Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett (the Gordon Bennett Cup in ballooning) is still contested today, the 2013 competition will take place in Grand Nancy-Tomblaine, in north-eastern France. The asteroid, 305 Gordonia, named after Bennett, was last seen in 2000.)

[carried over from ‘anyadditionalinformation’ wordpress blog]

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