Old Sport – Meaning & Example Sentences

It’s the roaring 20s, old sports, and what do we have to show for it? A full day’s work completed in our pajamas and heart palpitations at the sound of a sneeze.

So, maybe we aren’t living it up as much as Gatsby, but we can still talk like him!

Old Sport – Meaning

“Old Sport” is a term of endearment frequently used by the fictional character, Jay Gatsby, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It is said to have the same meaning as “friend” or “buddy” and can be used in place of these terms if you’re feeling especially ostentatious.

old sport meaning

The phrase “old sport” is no different than any other term of endearment. Just as you would call a friend “buddy”, you could call them “old sport”:

  • Good to see you, buddy, it’s been a while!
    à Good to see you, old sport, it’s been a while!

However, even back when the phrase was first coined, it had connotations of being pretentious and stiff, and it certainly feels the same way in today’s context!

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How to Use “Old Sport” in a Sentence

“Old sport” is a term of endearment, just like “buddy”, “pal”, “friend”, or even the more modern “dude”. It can be used in place of these terms but will inevitably make the speaker seem old-fashioned or even pretentious.

It has been observed by some readers of The Great Gatsby that Gatsby himself employed this term in an effort to appear more upper-class and sophisticated. His success in this pursuit is subject to debate.

Here’s how it might be used in a sentence:

  • ‘If there’s anything that you want, just ask for it, old sport.’ (From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  • It’s a pleasure to see you, old sport! How’s the wife?
  • Come along, old sport, we’ve a train to catch!

Old Sport – Origin

The term “old sport” is an example of upper-class British slang that was coined in the early twentieth century. It is said to have initially been used between male Oxford students before it spread to other prestigious universities and even upper-class public schools.

Although “old sport” comes from British upper-class slang, this phrase seems to have been popularized by the classic 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, by American Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.  

The titular character of Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby, was a man of humble background who spent his life trying to catch the eye of his upper-class love, Daisy.

One of the ways that he chose to fit in was to make use of a rather stuffy, upper-class endearment, “old sport”, particularly when speaking to Nick Carraway, the narrator of the book.

Here are some quotes from Gatsby in the novel:

  • I thought you knew, old sport. I’m afraid I’m not a very good host.
  • It’s pretty, isn’t it, old sport?
  • Look here, old sport, you— you don’t make much money, do you?
  • Give me a hand, will you, old sport?

Old Sport – Synonyms

“Old sport” is a term of endearment, often used between men in early twentieth-century Britain. It is, at this point, fairly dated. However, there are many terms that are still used today that mean essentially the same thing. These are:

  • Old friend
  • Mate
  • Bro
  • Brother
  • Buddy
  • Pal
  • Dude
  • Dear chap
  • Chum

Do you have any sweet names that you call your old friends? Switch them to “old sport” next time and see what their faces do!

Phrases That Mean the Opposite of “Old Sport”

Since “old sport” is a term of endearment between friends, any word that one would use in reference to an enemy or a mere acquaintance would suffice as an antonym.

We won’t list all the potential insults, as we’re sure you can come up with your own! Here’s just one, though, as a treat:

  • You old scoundrel!

Incorrect Ways to Use “Old Sport”

“Old sport” has nothing to do with sports or sportsmanship per se, nor is it used in indirect speech, as far as we can tell. So, although you might call a friend “old sport”, it wouldn’t work to refer to them as “an old sport”.

  • He’s an old sport of mine.

Note how this sentence cannot replace “he’s an old buddy of mine” comfortably. These sentences would also not work:

  • He’s an old sport from work.
  • I consider you an old sport.
  • He shook my hand after the game – so he’s an old sport after all.

In What Situations Can You Use “Old Sport”?

“Old sport” is a term of endearment that can be used in lieu of “friend” or “buddy”. As such, it should be used when you’re speaking directly to someone you quite like.

“Old” doesn’t refer to the age of the person, but perhaps to the length of the relationship and the depth of the affection you feel towards them.

  • Thank you for coming, old sport, it really means a lot to me.
  • Welcome, old sport!
  • It’s a beautiful day, old sport, perhaps we should play golf and light cigars with all our money.
  • We’re rich men, old sport, let’s talk sport and be old!

If you replaced “old sport” with “buddy” in any of these sentences, they’d still make perfect sense.

So, if you’re the son of poor farmers from North Dakota but want to convince all your friends that you’re a rich elitist like them, call them old sport so they know how sophisticated and Oxford-educated you are!

It worked out great for Gatsby, after all.

But, in all seriousness, Gatsby’s use of this phrase was pretty transparent to all the snotty rich people around him. By now, it would be considered completely outdated.

So, unless you’re writing a novel set in the early 1900s, more modern terms of endearment would be more suitable.