What is the etymology of giving [it] the old college try? In particular, is it referencing an old ritual that might have percolated amongst alumni of the old and prestigious New England colleges/universities? I tried Googling, but I'm not really finding an authoritative source at the moment. If nothing definitive can be found, I'd at least appreciate a date of first attestation.
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I found this link (at the bottom of the page) that might be helpful. Attestation in 1919 about a baseball player:
Frankie Frisch played baseball in college at Fordham University. He's a Hall of Famer whose nicknames are "The Fordham Flash" and "The Old Flash." He left college to make his major league debut with the NY Giants in June 1919, and the article was written in October 1919, so my best guess is that the author was giving a nod to Frisch's educational background — sort of a "he's playing with as much heart and determination as he did in college."
Given the popularity of baseball and the exceptional talent of this player, it would not surprise me if that's the reason this phrase became popular. Compare for instance "Win just one for the Gipper," which occurred around the same time period.
Here's a citation from 1917:
courtesy of a wordorigins discussion of this very question:
For more background on the use of the phrase, including some connotations I wasn't aware of, I offer the following entry in Paul Dickson's The Dickson Baseball Dictionary:
In college, you are faced with impossible situations in which you are expected to succeed. For example, having multiple exams and papers due at the same time, and being scheduled to work many hours at your college job.
When something seems impossible to do, but you do it anyways because you have no choice, you "Give it the old college try."
(Supporting edit by FumbleFingers, from Merriam-Webster...)
protected by tchrist Jun 10 '14 at 19:58
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