It is commonly believed that this expression has its origins in the popularity of James Gordon-Bennett, Jr..
Who was Gordon Bennett?
His father, born in Scotland in 1795, emigrated to the US to become a journalist and subsequently founded the 'New York Herald' in 1835. The many innovations he established within newspaper publishing, including European correspondents, illustrated news articles, the joint founding of The Associated Press (1848) and the first major use of the telegraph for news, led to a successful news empire which amassed considerable wealth.
It was his son, born in 1841 and known as Gordon-Bennett, who really captured the attention of the US and European populace. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he took every opportunity to live life as a playboy; his wild lifestyle and extravagant spending gained him notoriety in high society. On one occasion, at a New Year's party (1877) being held by his fiancee's father, he got so stupifyingly drunk as to mistake the fireplace for a toilet and proceeded to urinate in front of his prospective in-laws and their guests. Other tales include the occasion when, annoyed by the bulky roll of money in his back pocket, he burnt the lot in an impetuous fit. There are many more tales of his outrageous and extravagant behaviour, however not all cast him in a bad light, such as the numerous times he would donate large sums of money to charities.
He took over the management of the Herald in 1867, and proceeded to invest funds in newsworthy ventures. His funding included the expedition by Stanley to Africa, in search of Dr. David Livingstone, and an ill fated attempt to explore the North Pole and Arctic region by G.W. De Long in the years between 1879 and 1881. The 'Jeanette' expedition, as the Arctic trip was known, failed miserably and led to the subsequent death, via starvation, of De Long and 19 fellow crew members. There are several islands in Siberia that bear Bennett's name.
Gordon-Bennett was particularly partial to sports, being credited with introducing polo to the United States, his interests included yachting, in which he established the James Gordon-Bennett Cup for international races. Trophies were similarly given for balloon and aeroplane racing, of which the Gordon-Bennett balloon race still exists. As further testament to his involvement in the various racing arenas, it was in 1904 that the Gordon-Bennett Motor Car Road Racing Trials were first run on the Isle of Man, which was the precursor to the world famous TT races, currently still held there.
From 1877 he lived in Europe, mainly on his 301 foot yacht, the Lysistrata, from where he administered the running of the New York Herald. He died in France in May 1918, aged 78.
The use of James Gordon-Bennett's name as an expletive possibly bears relation to his outrageous lifestyle and involvement in newsworthy stunts. Imagine opening your daily newspaper and reading yet another news item telling you of his latest antics,
and as you begin to express incredulity with a "God Almighty", you restrain your publically unacceptable language and instead say.....
Other online slang dictionaries and resources worth a visit. Read more...
Recommended reading - books on slang and dictionaries. Read more...