Friday, October 19, 2007

Gordon Bennett! Revealed for the first time, the man who gave his name to a favourite profanity

By DUNCAN ROBERTSON - More by this author » Last updated at 07:50am on 19th October 2007

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Gordon Bennett

Drunken faux pas: The real Gordon Bennett

The Gordon Bennetts of this world have probably got used to hearing their name blurted out in moments of surprise.

Now word detectives believe they have pinpointed how the quaint exclamation came about.

Gordon Bennett, often considered a euphemism for a four-letter word, has been traced back seven decades after the public responded to a TV appeal.

The phrase is one of 34 words and phrases that have been updated by the Oxford English Dictionary, with the help of viewers from the BBC2 programme Balderdash & Piffle.

Hundreds wrote in after the programme makers asked the public to help them trace the history of 40 well-known words and phrases.

It had previously been thought that one of the earliest mentions of Gordon Bennett was by the character Alf Garnett in 1967 in the BBC TV series Till Death Us Do Part.

With the help of viewers, the phrase was initially traced back a further five years to the comedy Steptoe and Son in 1962.

Now, however, experts have agreed its first mention comes in a novel about low-life characters written in 1937 by James Curtis.

The book - You're in the Racket, too! - includes the phrase: 'He stretched and yawned. Gordon Bennett, he wasn't half tired.'

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word detectives

Archie Baron, executive producer of Balderdash & Piffle, said this new entry points to a real-life Gordon Bennett as an origin of the phrase.

'There was a famous playboy called Gordon Bennett, who died in 1918,' he said.

'He caused a society scandal by committing a faux pas at his engagement party in front of his snooty in-laws.

'It is very plausible that people passed on the phrase over the years, when referring to his shocking exploits.'

Gordon Bennett Jnr turned up drunk and late for the party held by his future in-laws, and ended up urinating into a fireplace in full view of other guests.

The American playboy lived a pampered existence and was particularly interested in fast cars, planes and women.

He used his inheritance to sponsor the Bennett Trophy in motor racing from 1900 to 1905, and in 1906 established a hot-air balloon race that is still held today.

Although they accept that the phrase was used in the 1937 book, OED experts are cautious about confirming Gordon Bennett Jnr's exploits.

They say it could also be a euphemistic extension of 'God!', 'Gawd!' or 'Gorblimey!'.

Other words traced by BBC viewers include 'wazzock', which is now listed in the OED as a stupid or annoying person, after it was found in a 1976 recording by British folk singer Mike Harding.

Another is flip-flop, as the plastic or rubber sandal was called in a Royal Australian Air Force serviceman's customs declaration when he left Malaya in 1958.

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