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What Does It Mean to ‘Have the Receipts’?

The word “receipts” has undergone some semantic broadening—in other words, its meaning has become more general. Rather than referring strictly to documents confirming purchases, “receipts” can now also refer to any kind of documentation that proves you’re right about something—whether it’s an actual receipt, a screenshot of an incriminating text message, or video footage of a conversation.

By
Neal Whitman, read by Mignon Fogarty,
April 6, 2018

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Two suspicious men wondering if the other one has the receipts.

If you’ve ever had to return something that you bought from a store, or get reimbursed for expenses from a business trip, you’re well familiar with the idea of saving receipts as proof that you really did buy what you say you bought. The receipt is a slip of paper, given to you by the merchant, stating that they received money from you, in exchange for the good or service that you bought. 

However, there’s a somewhat different meaning that’s been gaining in popularity for a few years. It really took off in the summer of 2016, with a boost from a public fight involving the pop star Taylor Swift, the rapper Kanye West, and his wife Kim Kardashian, who of course is famous in her own right. In February of that year, West had released a rap with a couple of lines about Swift that ranged from merely disrespectful to bluntly misogynistic. Swift took offense. West claimed that he had talked with her about the lines before releasing the song, and she had given her permission. Swift denied it. Finally, in mid-July, Kardashian posted a montage of video clips on Snapchat, showing West talking with Swift on speakerphone, apparently having the very conversation that West had referred to. In an article on Vox.com, reporter Alex Abad-Santos wrote that Kardashian had “release[d] the most damning pop music receipts in recent memory: Taylor Swift lied about Kanye West, and there’s video to prove it.” You can also find plenty of tweets referring to Kardashian’s “receipts.”

So how exactly is a video a receipt of anything? The answer is that this sense of the word “receipts” has undergone some semantic broadening—in other words, its meaning has become more general. Rather than referring strictly to documents confirming purchases, “receipts” can now also refer to any kind of documentation that proves you’re right about something—whether it’s an actual receipt, a screenshot of an incriminating text message, or video footage of a conversation.

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