[Ads-l] Cary Grant telegram anecdote

Ben Yagoda byagoda at UDEL.EDU
Thu Jan 2 06:35:57 UTC 2020

I have two reactions to Garson’s excellent article on the apocryphal Cary Grant quote (always one of my favorites). The first relates to what Timothy Ferris (son of Tom) told Garson:

> As I recall the matter, my father quoted the telegram as reading, “Please wire how old Gar Wood is.”  The awkward phrasing, ending as it does in a preposition, may have irritated him. Anyhow he replied, “Old Gar Wood fine.  How you?”

“Is,” of course, is not a preposition. But it’s not entirely surprising that the younger Ferris would have named it as such, since it creates the same sort of ungainliness that sentences ending in preps often end up with.

And I note that the folk editing of the anecdote improved it, as usually happens. First, the more famous the person, the better the story—and the move to Grant makes sense as “Cary” sounds like "Gar.” (I guess it could have been Gary Cooper, but he doesn’t seem to have been such a wag.) Having the telegram say “How old Cary Grant” is much funnier—it sounds like telegramese, and allows for the double meaning exploited by the (perfect) punchline. 

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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