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.

Neal Whitman, Writing for
4-minute read

In the Vox article, Abad-Santos also provides the origin of this meaning shift, pointing to an interview of another pop star in 2002—namely, Whitney Houston. She was interviewed by Diane Sawyer, who asked about Houston’s problems with drug addiction, and in particular, a newspaper headline claiming that Houston had once spent $730,000 on crack. Houston’s response was, “I wanna see the receipts. From the drug dealer that I bought $730,000 worth of drugs from. I wanna see the receipts.”

If you’re thinking, “I didn’t know drug dealers handed out receipts,” you’re right. Of course they don’t! Katy Waldman, a reporter for Slate.com, took on this angle in another article from July of 2016, written for the Lexicon Valley blog:

It was a subversive taunt.... Houston called up the specter of the missing receipts to poke fun at Sawyer’s impotence. She wasn’t so much clearing her name as luxuriating in immunity.

In yet another article published in the summer of 2016, Seija Rankin of E! Online noted that Houston’s quotation had become so popular, it had joined other famous lines that have changed from their original phrasing, such as “Play it again, Sam” and “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!” She wrote:

Slowly but surely “I wanna see the receipts” was changed to “Show me the receipts,” presumably because it just rolls off the tongue a bit easier. Cut to the summer of 2016, and it’s perhaps the most ubiquitous comeback we have at our disposal.

Katy Waldman fills in some more of the history of receipts as any kind of proof, between the Houston interview and the word’s emergence into the spotlight in the summer of 2016. If you’re interested, you can find her article and the other two linked in the transcript of this podcast at QuickAndDirtyTips.com. You can also find many examples of “receipts” with this new meaning collected in the May 2017 issue of the American Dialect Society’s journal “American Speech,” in their “Among the New Words” column.

Waldman also has one final observation to offer about “receipts.” She notes that this usage “like most U.S. slang has flourished especially in black vernaculars….” This is something to keep in mind if you’re inclined to make this new sense of “receipts” part of your active vocabulary and you don’t happen to be African American. It’s not just a fun and playful piece of slang; part of its character comes from being created and used by people who historically haven’t had an easy time being believed by those in positions of power.

Neal Whitman is an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar. He blogs at literalminded.wordpress.com, and tweets @LiteralMinded.


Abad-Santos, Alex. Kim Kardashian’s Taylor Swift-Kanye West Snapchat story, explained. in Vox [database online]. 2016 [cited 3/27 2018]. Available from https://www.vox.com/2016/7/18/12210858/kim-kardashian-taylor-swift-snapchat-kanye-west.

Rankin, Seija. The oral history of memes: Where did "show me the receipts" come from?. in E! Online [database online]. 2016 [cited 3/27 2018]. Available from http://www.eonline.com/news/789906/the-oral-history-of-memes-where-did-show-me-the-receipts-come-from.

Waldman, Katie. How “Show me the receipts” became a catchphrase for holding the powerful accountable. in Slate [database online]. 2016 [cited 3/27 2018]. Available from http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2016/07/21/how_show_me_the_receipts_became_a_catchphrase_for_holding_the_powerful_accountable.html.

Zimmer, Benjamin, Solomon, Jane, Carson, Charles E. 2017. Among the new words. American Speech 92 (2): 204-30.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Neal Whitman, Writing for Grammar Girl

Neal Whitman PhD is an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar and a member of the Reynoldsburg school board. You can find him at literalminded.wordpress.com.

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