A little less than a month ago Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern mentioned an alleged fact to myself and a few others at a Telluride Film Festival dinner. He said that the colloquial term “loser” was first coined in Walter Tevis‘s 1959 book “The Hustler.” It caught on in a bigger way two years later when Robert Rossen‘s The Hustler, an adaptation of Tevis’s book, opened.
The line was spoken at the end of Act One by George C. Scott, referring to Paul Newman‘s Eddie Felson: “Stick with this kid…he’s a loser.” It was used two more times in the film by Newman.
Until Morgenstern mentioned this I never knew that prior to ’59 (or ’61 or sometime during that end-of-the-Eisenhower-era period) Average Joes never used this term in common conversation. I realize it has a psychological connotation that relates to post-World War II ennui among the go-getter classes, but I thought it had been kicking around since…I don’t know, the late ’40s or something.