Discussion Topic

The significance of Gatsby's phrase "old sport" in The Great Gatsby

Summary:

The phrase "old sport" in The Great Gatsby signifies Gatsby's attempt to present himself as a sophisticated, upper-class gentleman. It reflects his desire to fit into the elite social circles and create an image of old-money respectability, despite his humble origins and newly acquired wealth.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the significance of Gatsby's phrase "old sport" in The Great Gatsby?

Gatsby's use of the phrase "old sport" is significant because, like the uncut books on his library shelves, it shows how his persona being of a wealthy, old-money, educated sophisticate isn't quite convincing.

Gatsby uses the phrase to back up his claims of being an Oxford man. It sounds "English" to him and suitably upper class. It seems to fit the debonair persona he is trying to create. However, it is dated and awkward. It seems to come from the same cheap dime novels in which Gatsby has read of great game hunting, which he thinks can be done in European cities. Tom, for example, a genuine example of old money, sees through the phrase as an affectation and says sharply to Gatsby:

All this "old sport" business. Where’d you pick that up?

The phrase is also a way through which Gatsby establishes a sense of friendly intimacy with people—part of what Nick sees as his expansive, charismatic personality. In fact, Gatsby has used it so often it has gone beyond being a mere affectation and is part of his speech patterns. For example, after the accident, when he has no need to use it, he continues to call Nick "old sport."

Gatsby has done his best to refashion himself into a new person, not the poor midwesterner he once was, but he doesn't have the background to quite pull it off.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the significance of Gatsby's phrase "old sport" in The Great Gatsby?

Jay Gatsby continually uses the phrase "old sport" when addressing Nick or the other gentlemen he interacts with during his magnificent parties. The phrase "old sport" is a friendly term of endearment typically used by English gentlemen of high society in the early twentieth century. Gatsby uses the term to reflect the image of an English aristocrat who attended Oxford and hails from an affluent family. After Gatsby arrived home from the war and met Dan Cody, he changed his name, transformed his identity, and amassed wealth in the bootleg industry.

Gatsby is considered "new money" and lives in the West Egg but wants to give the impression that he comes from "old money," which is why he uses the phrase "old sport" and behaves like a wealthy English aristocratic. The phrase "old sport" also allows Gatsby to gain the trust and admiration of others. Nick finds Gatsby exhilarating and his famous phrase contributes to his charm and charisma.

Gatsby's primary motivation for behaving and acting as an English gentleman is to win Daisy Buchanan's heart. Gatsby thinks that if he can fool Daisy into believing that he comes from an affluent background, he will be able to convince her to leave Tom and marry him.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the significance of Gatsby's phrase "old sport" in The Great Gatsby?

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.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the significance of Gatsby's phrase "old sport" in The Great Gatsby?

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. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the significance of Gatsby's phrase "old sport" in The Great Gatsby?

Gatsby uses the phrase "old sport"  to sound upperclass British, more like the "Oxford man" he claims to be. It's an English phrase, similar to "I say" or "I say, old chap," and it grates on the ears of Tom Buchanan, who is not for a moment fooled that Gatsby is anything but an upstart: "'Oxford man!" [Tom says]  "'Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.'"

Tom shows his irritation when he says to Gatsby: "All this 'old sport' business. Where did you pick that up?" Later he snaps "Don't you call me 'old sport'!"

Despite Tom's irritation, this a characteristic phrase that Gatsby uses all the time, to everyone he wants to ingratiate himself with: Nick, Tom, the policeman who pulls him over, guests at his parties. Nick understands it as way for Gatsby to feign intimacy without actually being intimate at all: "The familiar expression held no more familiarity than the hand which reassuring brushed my shoulder," Nick says. 

This phrase is part of Gatsby's incongruity or mystery, another part, like the uncut books in his library or his claims of big game hunting in Europe, that just doesn't quite add up. In the hands of less sympathetic writer than Nick, it could come across as just part of a con, but Nick sees Gatsby, the tragic dreamer, as greater than that. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why does Gatsby call Nick "old sport" in The Great Gatsby?

Jay Gatsby imitates the habit of the upper-class of British young men who refer to friends as "old sport" so that it will seem that he has attended Oxford University.

In his effort to make it look like he has reached a social level equal to that of Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatz has recreated himself as Jay Gatsby, whose resumé includes having graduated from the prestigious British university at Oxford. In truth, Jay Gatz only attended Oxford a few months. This fact is revealed in Chapter Seven while Jordan, Daisy, Tom, and Gatsby are in the New York hotel. As they drink cocktails, Tom confronts Gatsby about his pretense of having graduated from Oxford: “By the way, Mr. Gatsby, I understand you’re an Oxford man.” Uncomfortably, Gatsby replies, "Not exactly." Tom then insinuates that Gatsby has completely fabricated his having attended Oxford. “I told you I went there,” said Gatsby. Tom answers him, “I heard you, but I’d like to know when.” Gatsby clarifies,

“It was in nineteen-nineteen, I only stayed five months. That’s why I can’t really call myself an Oxford man....It was an opportunity they gave to some of the officers after the Armistice,” he continued. “We could go to any of the universities in England or France.”

When he hears this statement of Gatsby's, Nick narrates that he wants to get up and pat him on the back. "I had one of those renewals of complete faith in him that I’d experienced before" (Ch.7). Nick is relieved to witness Gatsby's honesty because he has been disturbed by Gatsby's pretense in other situations.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why does Gatsby call Nick "old sport" in The Great Gatsby?

The repeated use of this annoying speech habit is part of Gatsby's affectations. Nick is annoyed by the phrase and we can see this habit of speech as part of what makes Nick distrusting of Gatsby initially. Nick does not trust Gatsby, in part, because he does not like him and he does not like him, in part, because Gatsby constantly calls him "old sport". 

Gatsby's use of this phrase demonstrates a selfish or myopic demeanor in him. Gatsby is not genuine with Nick and so uses a generic and generically "chummy" term to express his mild affections for his neighbor. 

Also, we can see that Gatsby wants Nick to like him. In the baldness of his intentions and the poor way in which they are carried out, we see that Gatsby is not socially adept, even if he is glamorous, powerful, and successful. 

The repetition of this term from Gatsby serves to emphasize the importance of Gatsby's appearance to others, besides Nick. His unoriginal use of language feeds into the perception that his is inauthentic. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why does a character in The Great Gatsby frequently say "Old Sport"?

It is Gatsby himself who keeps using the expression "Old Sport." He also hints that he attended Oxford in England. At one point, Daisy's husband Tom challenges him on this, and Gatsby explains that during World War I some American officers were given the opportunity to attend some classes at Oxford. Gatsby was an officer in the U.S. Army. He picked up the English habit of calling other men "Old Sport" while attending Oxford, but he denies that he claimed to be an Oxford graduate. The Anglophilic habit Gatsby affects seems to characterize him as a social climber, which helps to explain why he devoted so much of his later life to accumulating money.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on