Dear Straight Dope: Do the word “ritzy” and the expression “puttin’ on the Ritz” have to do with the Ritz-Carlton Hotels or is this just coincidence? Christine M. O’Connor
Coincidence? I think not! According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word comes from the hotel, which was named for Cesar Ritz, builder of fine hotels in all the Western world’s biggest cities in the late 19th and early 20th century. The word was first used as a comparison to the exquisite food served at the hotels, such as F. Hopwood’s use of the word in a 1908 letter, “A banquet of Ritzian splendour.” R. Fry, in a 1910 Letter, wrote “I will not pretend that my cuisine rivals the Ritz.” The Chicago Tribune, in 1911, used the word as a verb, “They went abroad and began to Ritz themselves.” Wodehouse, in 1920’s Jill the Reckless, coined the adjective form of the word: “The Duchess, abandoning that aristocratic manner criticized by some of her colleagues as ‘up-stage’ and by others as ‘Ritz-y.'” In 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short story “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” published in Smart Set magazine. Variety magazine used the word as an adjective, without capitalization, in 1923, “The upstaginess and ritzy attitude of the movie stars has become a matter of common talk,” and Hemingway popularized the word as a metaphor (rather than a simile) in The Sun Also Rises, 1926, “We drove in to Biarritz and left the car outside a very Ritz place.”
In 1926, Ring Lardner used the quote “If you mention some really worth while novel like, say, ‘Black Oxen,’ they think you’re trying to put on the Ritz,” and in 1929, Irving Berlin wrote the popular song Puttin’ on the Ritz. By 1930, the word was thoroughly entrenched in the American English vernacular. Despite the appearance of his name in magazines, newspapers, popular literature, and pop music, Cesar Ritz never saw a dime of it. If you ever decide to build Restaurant Christine, be sure and get someone on that trademark issue, post haste.
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