Back in another life, when I was working at a newspaper, I was looking through an article when a senior editor came up to me and said there was a rape reference in a story that hadn’t yet been published.
I took a look at the article and all it said was that some successful guy was “in like Flynn.”
Turns out that was the rape reference.
The term is often believed to refer to movie star Errol Flynn. Flynn had a reputation for womanizing, consumption of alcohol and brawling. His freewheeling, hedonistic lifestyle caught up with him in November 1942 when two under-age girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee, accused him of statutory rape. A group was organized to support Flynn, named the American Boys’ Club for the Defense of Errol Flynn (ABCDEF); its members included William F. Buckley, Jr. The trial took place in January and February 1943, and Flynn was cleared of the charges. According to etymologist Michael Quinion, the incident served to increase Flynn’s reputation as a ladies’ man, which led to the popular phrase “in like Flynn”.
Of course, there’s a school of thought that it’s a political term, referring to a New York City political manipulator who could get anyone elected to office:
Etymologist Eric Partridge presents evidence that it refers to Edward J. Flynn, a New York City political boss who became a campaign manager for the Democratic party during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency. Boss Flynn‘s “Democratic Party machine exercised absolute political control over the Bronx…. The candidates he backed were almost automatically ‘in’.”
Given that it was a popular saying in World War II, chances are the reference was to Errol Flynn. But since that’s essentially a reference to child molesting, maybe it’s a good idea to think twice before saying it.