What is the significance of Gatsby's famous phrase "old sport"?

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kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You'll notice that Gatsby frequently uses the term "old sport" to address male characters, especially Nick. To understand the significance of this phrase, it is worth noting its meaning. "Old sport" is a friendly term of endearment used between gentlemen in the early twentieth century.

On the one hand, then, Gatsby's use of the phrase "old sport" is used to show his affection towards characters like Nick. It shows that his friendly feelings are genuine.

Looking deeper, however, we see that "old sport" is part of Gatsby's persona. As it is associated with gentlemen who come from old money backgrounds, Gatsby is trying to project this image. He wants people to think he comes from this old money—almost aristocratic—background because it will enhance his prestige and, more importantly, his authenticity.

As a final note, it is worth thinking about how this relates to his quest to win back Daisy. If Gatsby can successfully fool people into believing he belongs to the world of old money (by speaking accordingly), then he will have a better chance at winning back Daisy because this is exactly the sort of man a woman of her background should be with.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a good question. Gatsby used this language for three reasons. First, he wanted to give the impression that his money and wealth were not new but old. This is an important distinction, because new money is seen as less sophisticated and gaudy, whereas old money is just the opposite - refined, in good taste, and proper. So by using the language of the wealthy of England, he is seeking to give the impression that he comes from arguably older money than Nick and the others. It is important to recall that Gatsby told people that he was at Oxford. He wants people to make the connect to Oxford. 

Second, the language also has an "old boy's club" feel. So, when he calls Nick "old sport," he is creating the image of an inner coterie of friendship. By using the language he is saying that he himself is part of the "club," and he is extending it to you. 

Finally, all of what he does is to impress Daisy. So he is creating a persona for a girl, because of his love. 

sarahlshepard | Student

Gatsby uses this phrase in order to establish his position in society. "Old sport" is an English term of endearment, though it is not used by many. He uses this term in order to convince his peers that he is the person he is pretending to be. He wants people to believe that he attended Oxford, so he enables many different manipulation tactics, including the use of "old sport". He has failed slightly in this though, as the phrase is not actually common among the English. It is all part of the facade he presents.

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The Great Gatsby

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