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Separated by a common language…

Here’s a weirdie: instead of “holy shit!” or “hot damn!” or “frilly pig knickers!” Brits will occasionally blurt “Gordon Bennett!”

Because they’re nuts is why.

James Gordon Bennett, jr. was an American, son of the Scot who founded the New York Herald. He continued the newspaper tradition, but he was better known as the archtypal crazy rich bastard who does not give a shit.

He was the editor who arranged and financed Sir Henry M. Stanley‘s search for Dr. David Livingstone (if all you remember is the tagline, Livingstone was a missionary missing and presumed dead in Africa). This brought the Herald all kinds of good publicity, which they promptly pissed away in the Central Park Zoo hoax.

On November 9, 1874 the Herald ran a breathless front-page story that all the animals had escaped from the Central Park Zoo and were rampaging through Manhatten eating people. The hoax ‘fessed up in the last line, but most New Yorkers didn’t read to the bottom before utterly losing their shit, making this the War of the Worlds of 1874.

Shortly after, Bennet became engaged to socialite Caroline May — until her parents threw a legendary New Year’s party. Bennett arrived late and drunk and pissed into the fireplace (or possibly the grand piano) in view of the guests. This sort of thing was frowned upon in 1877. The engagement was off, and Miss May’s brother caught Bennett in the street soon after and horsewhipped him.

This freaked Bennett so badly, he fled the country forever and didn’t marry until the age of 72 (to Baroness de Reuters, of the Reuter’s News Reuters).

In between, he was pretty much the first international playboy; all yachts and polo ponies and fast cars. There’s still a balloon racing trophy named after him. He died in France in 1918.

I’d love to think his last words were “Gordon Bennett!” but it doesn’t appear in print as an exclamation until 1937. It’s probably just a ‘god’ substitute, like “golly gee” or “gosh.”

Thinking about it, I’d like to volunteer myself as a curse word. I think you’ll find hissing SSsssssssstoatyWEEZel an entirely satisfying response to moderate pain or surprise. I live to serve.

February 2, 2010 — 3:44 pm
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