Tommy “The Matchmaker” Curtis specialized in “meeting and greeting.” Did he invent the term, too? (Steve King)
Columnist

The phone rang, I picked it up, and a voice asked me to hold for Tommy Curtis.

That’s Tommy “The Matchmaker” Curtis, who for 18 years presided over the Yacht Club, a singles “experience” — let’s not call it something as crass as a singles “bar” — in a Bethesda Holiday Inn.

Tommy the Matchmaker says hundreds of couples got married as a result of his ministrations. “I never like to talk about the divorces,” he joked.

But that wasn’t what he was calling about. Tommy wanted to talk about the Taylor Swift trial, specifically the event at which a Denver radio DJ was accused of groping her. It was, he reminded me, a “meet-and-greet.”

Surrender Dorothy, a beer made by 7 Locks Brewing in Rockville, Md. The name recalls a famous bit of graffiti on a train bridge over the Beltway. (7 Locks Brewing)

Tommy said he invented the expression “meet-and-greet.” It was the 1970s, and he was on WMAL’s FM promoting singles events that he called “boozin’ and cruisin’. ” Station management was worried about the irresponsible connotation of that phrase — drunken driving — and asked him to come up with something else.

“I tried sippin’ and dippin’ and it didn’t work,” Tommy said. Then — some time around 1975, Tommy thinks — inspiration struck: meetin’ and greetin’. It was shortened to meet-and-greet, and a catchphrase was born.

Tommy feels he’s never received the credit he’s due.

“You know, ‘Are you ready to rumble?’ ” Tommy asked. “That guy has made a fortune. He owns that term. How did I know that this thing would become crazy?”

Was Tommy Curtis really the first person to use “meet-and-greet”? This required some sleuthing. I consulted Jon Simon, a researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary who lives in Silver Spring, Md.

When I called Tommy back, I felt like a doctor delivering some grim test results.

The dictionary recently added an entry for “meet-and-greet” as a noun, tracing it to a mention in 1960 in the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune: “Committee chairmen have been selected . . . They are: . . . Ernest Bianchi, house meet-and-greet and budget.”

The “Surrender Dorothy” grafitti came and went over the years. Here’s a version from 1986 and the Mormon temple in the background. (L. Mark/UPI)

It isn’t the most elegant usage, but Jon was able to ferret out others. The verb form goes back at least as far as the Hagerstown Mail of June 21, 1833, in a story about women joining a procession to “meet and greet” Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren in Lowell, Mass.

As an adjective, Jon found it in the Elyria (Ohio) Chronicle-Telegram on June 5, 1954, (a “Meet and Greet dinner” was being held at the YMCA) and the Amarillo (Tex.) Daily News of April 22, 1971 (a Rotarian golf tournament was to be followed by “a meet-and-greet session”).

If Tommy was crestfallen, he didn’t show it. (You don’t become the Matchmaker by being easily discouraged.)

“I think it’s fair to say I popularized it,” he said.

Tommy said he didn’t read the Amarillo or Elyria papers, wouldn’t have seen it somewhere else, and came up with “meet-and-greet” on his own. There was no way for the expression to emerge from those “pork belly” towns and spread nationwide, he said. For that to happen, it needed a major media market such as Washington — and a cheerleader such as Tommy.

It appears that, like calculus and the theory of evolution, “meet-and-greet” emerged in multiple places independently. Not surprising, really. English-speakers like rhymes: fun and sun, gun and run, use it or lose it, click it or ticket.

Tommy said he’s in Los Angeles now, working to finance a remake of “Hell Night,” the 1981 Linda Blair horror movie that he helped produce. He’s thinking of returning to the District in the fall to throw an event for singles 35 and older. He said he hopes it will be his biggest meet-and-greet ever.

Think-and-drink

Here’s something that was unquestionably invented in our area: Surrender Dorothy beer. It’s a product of 7 Locks Brewing in Rockville, Md., and takes its name from the famed graffiti that repeatedly came and went on a railroad bridge over the Beltway near the Mormon temple in Kensington.

“I don’t remember exactly who came up with the name,” said Keith Beutel, who founded 7 Locks two years ago with his University of Maryland classmate Jim Beeman. “We put together a long list of names that are associated with either Montgomery County or the C & O Canal. Then each time we come out with a new beer, we just attach one of those names to it.”

The malty Surrender Dorothy — a “Rye PA,” as 7 Locks calls it — has a reddish color. “We wanted to play off the whole ‘Wizard of Oz,’ ruby red slippers thing,” Keith said.

The beer initially was available only on tap. Then in May, the brewery started canning Surrender Dorothy. The cans feature Chicago artist Phil Thompson’s fun, stylized illustration of the Beltway and the Mormon temple.

Keith grew up in New York, Jim in Western Maryland. Neither had a chance to see the original spray-painted “Surrender Dorothy.” Said Keith: “There seem to be very few photos of it that you can find online. It was kind of fun to be able to re-create it on a can.”

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.