This phrase occurs in Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby.” Fitzgerald has employed this phrase several times. In lines 35 and 40 of chapter IV, the protagonist, Gatsby calls his friend Nick by saying that, “It’s pretty, isn’t it, old sport?” He jumped off to give me a better view. “Haven’t you ever seen it before?” The purpose of this phrase is to lay emphasis on the impact of Gatsby’s outlook to Nick as well as to others. Besides, the use of unoriginal language shows Gatsby is not authentic.
Gatsby calls Nick an “old sport,” which implies that he wishes to follow a lifestyle of “old money” and attain characteristics of a rich man. The repeated use of “old sport” throughout the story also describes Gatsby’s myopic and self-centered demeanor. He constantly calls Nick an “old sport,” therefore, Nick neither likes him nor trusts him. Since he is not true to Nick, he uses this “chummy” term and expresses his mild friendliness for Nick.
This is one of the slangs and old expressions of calling friends, especially male camaraderie, like some old expressions such as “old bean, old chap” etc. In fact, this term has become pretty outdated these days, while its modern version is “bro, sis, buddy, and mate, etc.” You may hear this phrase in everyday usage, as some people still be using this phrase for some games played between friends.
Source of Origin
Gatsby says this phrase for his friend and neighbor, Nick. He repeats a long list of his accomplishments to make an impression of a wealthy man on him,
“Good morning, old sport. You’re having lunch with me to-day and I thought we’d ride up together.”
He was balancing himself on the dashboard of his car with that resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American—…
“It’s pretty, isn’t it, old sport?” He jumped off to give me a better view. “Haven’t you ever seen it before?”…Look here, old sport, he broke out surprisingly. What’s your opinion of me, anyhow?”
(Chapter IV, Lines 35-40)
He uses this term to draw the attention of Nick and readers to tell them about his high social status, and short time spent in Oxford as a student, because Oxford is thought to be a school for “old money.” Likewise, Gatsby wishes to fit into this category. It also emphasizes that he could not exactly understand how the old money works.
Such phrases become common with overuse but they become popular and trite when they are used excessively to emphasize certain ideas which cannot be stressed upon otherwise. For example, Gatsby comes and picks Nick and his huge yellow colored Rolls Royce car, which symbolizes his wealth to attract the attention from his beloved, Daisy. Both Gatsby and Tom are similar. Gatsby mentions the car before Nick mentions it, and likewise Tom mentions his luxurious house before Nick asks him. During the drive, Gatsby gives details of his personal past life to Nick, whom this story looks improbable, as Gatsby tells him that he belongs to a rich family and comes from San Francisco, has got good education from Oxford University, collected gems in Europe, while several European countries have awarded him war medals for fighting in the WWI.
- Verbal Irony: Although this phrase has no device, yet it is used to demonstrate verbal irony when a character demonstrates or shows familiarity with another character.