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Slang Words for Money: A Tax Day Special

Bread, greenbacks, and lucci. We have the rundown on some of your favorite slang terms for money. 

By
Samantha Enslen, read by Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #678
A woman holding money, moolah, scratch, bank

April 15 is almost here.

For listeners in most of the world, it’ll be just another day. But for those of us in the U.S., April 15 is tax day. 

So, today we’re going to talk about the various words we use for taxes and money. There are a lot of them.

The Origin of the Word ‘Tax’ and a Brief History of Taxation

They say that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. And although taxation hasn’t been around as long as death, it does have quite a history. In ancient Greece, there were taxes on consumption—in other words, you paid a tax on the things you bought.

In ancient Rome, there were consumption taxes, as well as import taxes, real estate taxes, and head taxes—a tax you pay for having a head. In other words, for existing. (1)

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And well before that, in ancient Egypt, taxes were levied even before money existed, back when all transactions were a form of barter. The governors of the time simply walked among peoples’ fields, assessed their crops and livestock, and demanded a portion of it in taxes. (2)

The same thing happened in Medieval times. Those images we have of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John demanding money from peasants? That was a brutish form of tax collection.

In fact, the earliest record we have of the English word “tax” is from this era, around the 1300s. The word comes from the Latin “taxāre,” meaning “to charge or valuate.” Over time, it became “tausser” in Old French, “tassare” in Italian, and “tasar” in Spanish. (3)

By the way, in the department of Not All Words that Sound the Same Have the Same Roots, please note that the “tax” part of words like “taxidermy” comes from a totally different root: the Greek word “τάξις.” It means “to arrange.” In the case of “taxidermy,” it’s paired with the Greek word for “skin.” Thus “taxidermy” means “arranging skin.” That’s pretty accurate!

The Many Slang Words for Money

Now let’s talk about money. 

There are literally hundreds of slang words for money—everything from obsolete terms like “pelf,” which came from an Anglo-French word for “booty”—to contemporary words like “cheddar” and “cheese.” There’s even “blue cheese,” which refers to the broken blue strip along the center of the U.S. hundred-dollar bill. 

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