The knowing smirks exchanged by the characters today signaled to me that there was supposed to be a joke somewhere in here, even though I didn’t see it on first glance.
After hours of careful study and research, I’ve decided the joke was that the cat is actually named Bingo because St. Spires, like many churches, supports itself with organized charitable gambling.
Which lends weight to St Spires being Catholic. Church Bingo tends to be a Catholic exercise, though in big cities, it might be Jewish. Back in the heyday, Protestant ministers would lambast Bingo as a vile and immoral game of chance, really no better than the indulgences that had once funded the papacy. Even today, some churches struggle with the morality of making their money from hosting gambling, often by people outside their congregation.
But back in the Great Depression, Bingo kept many parishes from shutting their doors. Edwin Lowe, the man who first sold the game under the name BINGO, claimed he was approached by a Catholic Priest only months after he first started selling Bingo. It was because of the concerns of this priest that Lowe contacted Columbia University math professor, Carl Leffler, to create thousands of unique Bingo cards, so there would be less repeated winners. According to legend, the math professor subsequently went insane.
Of course, Lowe only improved and named an already existing game. The first attestations of a bingo-like game date all the way back to Italy in the 16th century. And the word ‘Bingo’ also predates association with the game by centuries. Lowe claimed that he chose the name after a player of ‘Beano’, the game’s precursor, shouted ‘Bingo!’ when she won. In the 1920’s, the word ‘bingo’ had become an expression of surprise and success.
The semi-nonsensical word had been circulating for a long time. Before most of us have ever played a game of Bingo, we are taught the nursery song about a farmer’s dog. And that song is older than the US Constitution. The earliest printed version of the song with a dog named Bingo was listed in The Humming Bird songbook in 1785.
“The farmer’s dog leapt over the stile,
his name was little Bingo,
the farmer’s dog leapt over the stile,
his name was little Bingo.”
But WHY was the dog named Bingo? Well, the answer may be in the forgotten second verse.
“The farmer loved a cup of good ale,
he called it rare good stingo,
the farmer loved a cup of good ale,
he called it rare good stingo.”
The farmer was a raging alcoholic.
See, the song was originally a drinking song.
And some of the earliest attestations of the word ‘bingo’ list it as a slang term for brandy.
So if the cat isn’t named after gambling, she’s definitely named after booze.