gin game

Thu Jan 14 23:39:41 UTC 2010

        I have had an opportunity to review the postcard in question and
to take into account the comments of Jon Lighter, George Thompson, and
Doug Wilson, who have also seen the scans of the card.  As those of you
who have been following this will recall, this exchange began in
response to a January 7 New York Times article about the Brooklyn Navy
Yard Archive,, which
included this paragraph:

        <<The archive has also received a 1909 postcard showing the yard
paymaster's house; on the back an enraged shipyard worker scrawled to
his girlfriend, "What kind of a gin game you giving me, taking me for a
damn fool?">>

        "Gin game" in this sense is not known from 1909 or any other

        The card actually has a postmark of Jul 23, 1930; I don't know
if the 1909 date comes from the appearance of the paymaster's house on
the obverse, or what.  I transcribe its text as follows:

        <<{Answer Quickly}
        Dear Anna.
        Have heard that you are going out with Frank & your freind with
his boss.
        What kind of a gon game you giving me.  Taking me for a darn

        Miss Anna Hart
        596 Linden St.

        (This use of braces for emphasis is new to me.)

        Some of the words are difficult to read, particularly the ones I
have transcribed as "gon game."  In comparing the first word to other
letters in the card, however, it's difficult to come up with anything
other than "gon" (the unanimous choice of Jon, George, and Doug), or
possibly "gan" or perhaps "gov."  "Gin" seems unlikely, since the second
letter has a closed loop and lacks a tittle.  The second word begins
with either a g or a y (water damage makes it difficult to be sure); its
remaining letters are uncertain, but "game" is plausible.

        Jon adheres to his view that "con game" is intended, arguing
that "gon" is a slip of the pen occasioned by the writer thinking of
"game" as he wrote.  I questioned this approach, which requires that we
assume the writer made a mistake that matches up with a predetermined
outcome, and he defended it in more detail:

<<John, further "evidence," if I may use the word, that "gon" is a slip
of the pen are the indications that the writer was mad as hell - or at
least perturbed. First there's the obvious content. Then there are the
emphatic braces around "Answer Quickly" at the top (in addiction to the
capitalized "Quickly") and around "fool?"

Note too that he dots all the other "i's."

Further evidence of emotion is the omission of "are" in the final

And I've never heard of a "gon game" anyway.

Admittedly, my original suggestion of "con game" was based on the
assumption that the
handwriting was poor. Of course, it is fairly clear, especially around
(and I believe within) the uncertain word.  Given that clarity, the
notion of a "predetermined outcome" does not, I think, apply.

Hey!  Forward this too if you like.  (I don't mind if I'm proven wrong.
I can always go into denial.)>>

        Although I still think that "con game" is a bit too neat, I
don't have a better suggestion.

John Baker

The American Dialect Society -

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