Finally, the Gravy Train
I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book The Yale Book of Quotations and my more recent researches.
Sam has been patiently asking about this over and over again, so here goes. Jonathon Green, in his magnificent, just-published Green’s Dictionary of Slang, has as its earliest citation for “gravy train” the following:
1895 Connellsville (PA) Courier Nov. Johnston claims that Reuben Nelson and another tall negro were in New Haven the night of the escape and that they broke into the lockup. Johnston further states that the next day Nelson laughingly told him that the New Haven lockup was “a gravy train.”
Green also quotes J. L. Dillard, Lexicon of Black English, as suggesting “the image of a gambler who is in the ‘gravy’ and thus pursued by a ‘train’ of those who wish to benefit.” Green’s definition of “gravy train” is “a sinecure, a simple, substantially profitable situation from which one can benefit easily.”
Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?