Is cash money a regional expression? I heard it after moving to Reno and thought it might be a casino thing, but then I heard it on the Planet Money podcast.
Blue=one person has heard the phrase "cash money."
Red=one person has not heard the phrase "cash money."
I first heard the phrase cash money after I moved to Reno, Nevada, and I thought it might be a casino thing because I always heard it during drawings when I would go to a certain casino for lunch. The announcer had a lot of time to fill, so he’d go on and on saying things like “Who wants to win the cash money?” and “We’re giving away cash money every three minutes,” and so on. It sounded odd to me because what other kind of cash is there? It seems redundant. But then, last week, I heard it on the Planet Money podcast, so I knew there must be a bigger story.
My first thought was that it might be regional, so I posted a question on the Grammar Girl Facebook page asking people to tell me if they hear the phrase “cash money,” and if they do, to tell me where they live. This is, of course, a nonscientific survey, but it suggests that whether you use cash money is related to your culture, your region, and your age.
Cash Money Was Popular During the Depression
The most interesting thing was watching people interact in the Facebook comments because some of the first people to comment were certain it comes from rap music or hip hop culture, and then a bunch of older people quickly started correcting them. One commenter said, “My 60 year old boss says it, so I don't think it stemmed from hip-hop,” and one person from Nevada said she’d never heard it but her mom had heard it—and they’ve both lived in the same town in Nevada all their lives.
If you do a Google Ngram search, which shows how often phrases appear in published books and charts them by year, you see that the phrase cash money peaks in American English in the early 1940s. Clicking through on the examples and doing a regular Google search suggests that the peak is related to the Depression and how people didn’t have cash and would barter for what they needed. I found lots of references to the scarcity of "cash money" during the Depression. Here's one example from the book Swish Nicholson: a Biography of Wartime Baseball's Leading Slugger:
When hard times came in the 1930s, prices for crops went through the floor . . . but there was always plenty to eat on Fancy Farm, even if cash money was tight.
Cash Money Is Popular in the South
The phrase cash money seems to be least popular in the West.
There also appears to be a regional element, even though the phrase isn’t mentioned in the Dictionary of American Regional English. I made a map of people’s responses from my Facebook page. From that map (above) you can see that more people in the South, East, and Midwest say or have heard the phrase cash money, but also that fewer people in the South report being unfamiliar with the term. In other areas, it’s more of a mixed bag with some people knowing the phrase and other people not knowing it. The phrase seems to be least common in the West. Also, what you can’t see immediately on the map is how often people from the South and Midwest said something like “Oh, yeah, we say that all the time,” and people in other regions said “I think I’ve heard it once or twice,” or “I’ve heard it, but the people I know don’t say it.” (It turns out the guy in the casino I heard saying “cash money” has roots in the South.)
The comments also indicate that it may be common in North and South Dakota. I did enter all the comments on the map, so if you follow the link to the Google map and hover over each pin, you can see more details. A number of commenters also mentioned that it seemed like a phrase rural people would be more likely to use.
On that note, I also found a post by Kennith Culbreth that was specifically about dialect in the rural South in the 1930s and 1940s, and here are some of his examples: