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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

Greenbacks, Kale, and Cabbage

Then there are words that refer to the color of dollar bills in the U.S., like greenbacks, kale, and cabbage. The word “greenback” is used generally now, but it had a more specific meaning during the U.S. Civil War. It referred to the $432 million in paper money that was issued by the U.S. government at the time. They used that money to finance the Union cause. The only problem? The paper bills weren’t backed by gold or silver. And the Confederate government responded by printing its own money: $1.5 billion worth. 

The result was wild inflation in both the North and the South. For example, the price of a 200-pound bag of salt jumped from 65 cents to $60 in the first two years of the war. (4,5)

Bread and Dough

There are also words that seem to equate money with flour products: dough and bread. “Bread” first showed up as a word for money in the 1950s. “Dough” was used much earlier. The first documented instance was in a dictionary of Americanisms published in 1848. (6)

We don’t know exactly why “dough” and “bread” came to be slang words for money. It may be because bread has long been considered essential to life, and money is kind of essential, too. But we don’t know that for sure.  (7)

Moolah, Clams, and Simoleons

There are also just really random words that mean money. The same 1848 dictionary that first listed “dough” also gave us “tin,” “kelter,” “dimes,” "shinplaster,” and “rocks.” There’s “moolah,” which appeared in the 1930s … but no one knows why. There’s “simoleons,” which appeared in the 1890s and also has no known origin. Other mystery words include “clams,” “lolly,” and “scratch.” 

About that word “scratch”—a 1915 dictionary of criminal slang lists “scratch” as a word used for money by “literate criminals.” These well-read thieves were also said to use the terms “stiff” and “reader” to mean any piece of paper, not just money. Apparently, they were referring to how unpliable paper is. (8)

(By the way, other categories of criminals in this book include “pickpockets,” “yeggs,” “freelovers,” “genteel grafters,” and “prison habitués.” I think I sense a future podcast episode in those words!)

Hip-hop Words for Money

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the rich vocabulary about money that’s come from rap music. Over the last 40 years, hip-hop artists have given us words like “fetti,” “bands,” “dead presidents,” and “racks,” especially in the sense of having “racks on racks” of money. 

There’s the word “lucci,” which comes from the word “lucre,” meaning monetary gain—which in turn comes from the Latin word “lucrum,” meaning “profit.” 

And there’s “duckets,” from the Italian word “ducat,” referring to Venetian gold coins—which in turn comes from the Latin “ducatus,” meaning “leadership.” (9)

And we’ve all heard “make it rain,” a reference to showering others in bills as a gesture of wealth and largesse.

We could talk for hours about more words that mean “money,” but you get the idea: there are a lot of them. And whatever you call your money, if you live in the U.S., I hope you get some of it back on tax day. Good luck.

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or @DragonflyEdit.

Sources

  1. McLure, Charles E., Cox, Maria S., and Neumark, Fritz. Taxation. Encyclopedia Britannica Online (subscription required, accessed April 5, 2019).
  2. Mark, Joshua J. Ancient Egyptian Taxes & the Cattle Count. Ancient History Encyclopedia, February 7, 2017 (accessed April 4, 2019). 
  3. Oxford English Dictionary Online. Ducat, greenback, tax, taxidermy. Oxford University Press  (subscription required, accessed April 4, 2019).
  4. Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. Greenback Movement, Remembering the American Civil War, (accessed April 4, 2019).
  5. Independence Hall Association. The Southern Homefront. US. History: Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium (accessed April 4, 2019). 
  6. Bartlett, John Russell. Dictionary of Americanisms. New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1848 (accessed April 4, 2019). 
  7. Kohl, Matt. How did bread, cheese, and dough come to mean money? Oxford Dictionaries, 2014 (accessed April 4, 2019). 
  8. Jackson, Louis E., Hellyer, C.R. A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang, with Some Examples of Common Use. Portland, OR: Modern Printing Co., 1915 (accessed April 4, 2019).
  9. Hagan, Geo. Rap Dictionary: 10 Hip-Hop Slang Words for Money. The Richest. May 31, 2014 (accessed April 4, 2019). 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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