Name-dropping

Having just sent the title

Erdös-Kác, Rényi-Turán, Keating-Snaith, and Katz-Sarnak

for a lecture at a forthcoming conference, I was naturally led to wonder about the marvelous English expression name-dropping, and I resorted to the OED for information. I was surprised to see that the word is claimed to go back no further than the 1940’s; in fact the first quotation is for name-dropper:

1939 Los Angeles Times 17 Jan. 115/5 My pet aversion..is the name dropper, the type that is always saying: ‘Well,..when I had lunch with the P. of W., he said-’ I say to them: ‘The P. of What?’ ‘The P. of W., the Prince of Wales, of course,’ they say.

The first instance of name-dropping is in 1945; a nice quotation from 1999 is

1999 Times 16 July 24/7 Name-dropping is so vulgar, as I was telling the Queen last week.

Considering that the phenomenon certainly goes back to the dawns of celebrity (there must have been some name-droppers in philosophical circles in Ancient Greece), it’s a surprise to see it acquire its specific name so recently. And most languages probably don’t even have a good equivalent; I would certainly be hard put to give a good translation of name-dropping in French. Are there other languages better suited to the task?

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Kowalski

I am a professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich since 2008.

One thought on “Name-dropping”

  1. The 1939 reference seems like “dropping” in the sense of “dropping letters” when abbreviating?

    > “My pet aversion,” she said, “is the name dropper, the type that is always saying: `Well, J. P. told me yesterday and when I had lunch with the P. of W., he said —‘
    > “I say to them, `The P. of What?’
    > “ `The P. of W., the Prince of Wales, of course,’ they say.”

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