Manliness and money

Among today’s cartoons, a Zippy on manliness and a Bizarro on slang for money:

In the Zippy, Claude asserts his manliness by rising above cultural conventions associated with femininity and/or homosexuality: the colors pink, lavender, and purple, plus nail extensions and nail polish — combining them by having his extended nails done in hot pink and having his facial stubble (that symbol of masculinity) dyed lavender (that symbol of queerness). Zippy, meanwhile, has his own idiosyncratic assertions of security in his manhood, involving maple glazed doughnuts and the Moonlight Sonata, two items I had not previously associated with either women or gay men. (As a bonus, there’s the nouning by truncation in maple glazed for maple glazed doughnut.)

Meanwhile, “American business magnate, television personality and author” (as Wikipedia describes him, neutrally) Donald Trump figures in the Bizarro via his love of money (and the wielding of it). The refrigerator door has money symbols on it (as well as Bizarro symbols), dividends spelled out in refrigerator magnets, the figure of Rich “Uncle” Pennybags (“the round old man in a top hat who serves as the mascot of the game Monopoly”, as Wikipedia puts it), and slang synonyms for money on the grocery list (plus “You’re fired!” from Trump’s tv show The Apprentice).

On slang terms for money (for amounts, or for specific coins or bills), here’s a chatty column from Jed Hartman’s Words & Stuff column of 7/27/97, “The Roots of Money” (with the words from the Bizarro cartoon boldfaced):

Slang terms for money derive from some … unlikely places. I used to have trouble remembering whether a fin was a five-dollar bill and a sawbuck a ten, or vice versa, until I learned that “fin” (also “finnif”) is from “finf,” Yiddish for “five,” and “sawbuck” refers to a kind of sawhorse with crossed wooden legs, forming an X, the Roman numeral for 10. A double sawbuck is thus a twenty-dollar bill. “Sawbuck” is sometimes abbreviated “saw,” but not, of course “buck.” [buck meaning ‘dollar’]

The 1920s and 1930s were a particularly rich time in terms of American slang terms for money, some of which are still in use today. Some terms presumably referred to money’s use in purchasing food: bacon (as in “bring home”), bread, dough, and so on. (One term for counterfeit money was “sourdough.”) Other terms referred to the green color of American bills: cabbage, lettuce, kale, folding green, long green. Yiddish was the source of some terms, such as “gelt”though that particular one had been part of the English language since at least 1529, possibly by way of German and Dutch. There were other old terms for money: “rhino,” for instance, of unknown origin, entered the language in 1670, two centuries before the word was used as a shortened form of “rhinoceros.” I’m not sure, but I suspect that “jack” derives from “jackpot,” originally referring to the large amounts of money you could win playing a jacks-or-better poker game. Some slang money terms I have no idea of the origin of: mazuma, moolah, oscar, pap, plaster, rivets, scratch, spondulicks. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some monetary slang was invented by Damon [Runyon] or other writers of the time…

… slang terms for a dollar include ace (which term derives from a word referring to a copper coin in Latin), bean (as in bean counter), boffo (presumably from Variety headlines’ shortening of “box office” referring to money collected at theatres), bone, buck, bullet, case note, clam, coconut, fish (which in ’20s slang could also refer to a convict), frogskin, lizard, peso, rock, scrip, simoleon, and yellowback. The heavy dollar coin was once known as an iron man, plug, sinker, or wagon wheel. And the old Spanish peso coin could be physically broken into eight pieces, each worth one real, an eighth of a peso; hence the coins were called “pieces of eight,” and a 25-cent coin, a quarter dollar, is “two bits.”

(Note that in American English, the plural of several count nouns referring to a dollar as an amount can be used as synonyms for money: bucks, clams, and pesos, in particular. Other synonyms for money are mass nouns, like money itself.)


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: