The US Dollar’s Name Origin and Associated Common Slang

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Money talks and nobody walks, and that is just the way it is.

In a consumer-based society, money is at the top of our conversational pyramid. How often when hanging with friends, having dinner with family or chatting with colleagues at work does someone ask: “How much was that?” Even between strangers waiting for a bus you’ll hear: “What did it cost? What did that run you? What’s the damage?”

We talk about the cost of life’s necessities and luxuries almost constantly and to keep things interesting over time we have come up with a plethora of slang to refer to it. American dollars are the most recognized currency in the world and are used officially in nine other countries (Ecuador, East Timor, El Salvador, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Turks and Caicos, British Virgin Islands, Zimbabwe) and unofficially in many others, making it a currency that not only crosses borders, but languages as well. Join us as we sort through a few of the streetwise slang terms that people around the world use to refer to the US dollar.

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The Origins

The word “dollar” as we know it today actually comes from the word joachimsthaler, coined (pun intended) by Count Hieronymus Schlick of Bohemia in regards to the place where the silver was mined in what is now Czechia. Then, as what happens to most exaggeratedly long words, it was shortened in the 1500s to thaler, a silver coin minted in Germany.

As time went by and the New World came upon Western European settlers, just as their settlements began to prosper, their monies did, too. The thirteen colonies under British rule used pounds while the Spanish used the peseta in other parts of the North American territory. Since the New World Spanish coins were made of silver similar to that of the German thaler, a new name was adopted: dolar. A few wars and newfound independence later, the Continental Congress didn’t think it would fit the bill to be conducting business in British pounds after the American Revolution, hence settling on “dollar” as we know it today.

A few centuries later, Americans have come up with a whole laundry list of names for the all-important greenback; too many, frankly, to just reel off in a comprehensive list. That’s why we’ve decided to divide them up into categories:

Color is an obvious, and simple, starting point since money is a commonly referenced as simply green. Then there’s greenbacks and of course greenery.

Food is a common reference point for money slang and probably has been for as long as currency has existed.

What, in Western culture, is more essential than bread?

What do you make bread out of? Dough.

You can bring home the bacon, make a few clams and pay in biscuits.

Both broccoli and cabbage refer more to the color than the vegetables you can buy with it.

Blue cheese, blue cheddar and cheddar refers specifically to the 2013 edition of the one hundred dollar bill with the blue stripe.

As closely related as money and food may be (the rich are fat cats after all), CREAM when referring to money, is actually an acronym: Cash Rules Everything Around Me, or has been at least since the Wu Tang Clan coined it in the nineties.

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Other objects

The most common slang word for cash in the United States has to be bucks: “Can you spare a buck, do you have a buck, it’s just a buck.” It’s quick, easy and sounds good. Plus it can easily be used to refer to exact amounts whereas others are generally uncountable (3 cabbages? How much cheddar?).

The term buck comes from when trading deerskins served as an early form of currency. The sawbuck came later, referring both to the shape of a sawhorse and the roman numeral for ten. Dinero was the currency of the Christian States of Spain, shekels are the currency of Israel, but the word origin is pre-biblical as a unit of weight and measure. Loot from the Latin lucre or luccil describes any ill-gotten gains (filthy lucre), while scrilla most likely is in reference to the word scroll referring to paper.  

We’re going to Vegas!

The gambling world has added its fair share of colorful descriptions to the language of money.

A hundred dollar bill can be a C-note, a yard, or a Benjamin after that venerable founding father Benjamin Franklin. In the Casino, a yard is a thousand dollars, sometimes noted as a K and a million is a rock, perhaps from the word rack, as in a complete rack of casino chips.

Every currency in the world has it’s own lexicon. The UK’s is as vast as the US’s with bobs and sky divers abound. In India, you can have a petri or a pavo in Spain. We know that the list can go on for quite some time, but we’d like for you to have the opportunity to put in your two cents (badum-tish!).