Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Lines on the Transpontine Madness - Brooklyn as South London?

I have been reading “The Boys of Summer” (1971) by Roger Kahn. Considered by many to be one of the great sports books, it focuses on the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team who among other things broke down the colour bar in professional baseball in this period through the presence of the legendary Jackie Robinson. I must admit that some of it is hard going for a non-baseball fan but I was struck by the title of the opening chapter- “Lines from the Transpontine madness“. He attributes the phrase “Transpontine madness“ to Stanley Woodward of the New York Herald Tribune who complained in the 1940s that sports reporters sent to cover the Dodgers invariably ended up becoming passionate supporters of the team.

So why transpontine? Well if the word was popularised in the 19th century to refer to the south London areas across the bridges of the Thames it has also sometimes been applied in other cities divided by a river. In this case of course, Brooklyn is separated from Manhattan by the East River spanned by the famous Brooklyn Bridge. And as with South London, Brooklyn and the other transpontine boroughs have sometimes been looked down upon from the other side of the river, a condescension summed up in the disparaging phrase “bridge and tunnel” to describe the supposedly less sophisticated travelling into central New York to work and play.

I don’t think that the word Transpontine has really caught in a New York context but it is interesting to see the similarities with London and other cities divided by rivers where the different sides are often perceived as socially and culturally distinct.

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