You might know what a "case quarter" is if you're from South Carolina. To people elsewhere, it's more of a mystery.
Hello to Andrea who listens to the podcast on her bus ride home every night in New York City but went to college in the South where her roommates would ask her if she had a “case quarter.” She’d never heard of such a thing, and neither had I until she asked about it.
It turns out a “case quarter” means a quarter—a 25-cent piece—as opposed to other coins that make up 25 cents. For example, if you’re on your way to do the laundry, you want a case quarter, not two dimes and a nickel. Apparently, “case” can go with other denominations too, so you can ask for a “case dime,” a “case nickel” or even a “case dollar,” and this is indeed something you’re only likely to hear in the American South. The Dictionary of American Regional English pinpoints it specifically to South Carolina.
And In fact, one of the few recent examples I could find comes from an article in the “Island Packet,” a news site headquartered in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The writer describes the offerings on the grave of author Pat Conroy, probably best know for writing the novel “The Prince of Tides,” like this:
But still, why “case”? Well, it probably comes from British and Australian slang where a “caser” is another name for a “crown,” which is a single coin worth five shillings. The Oxford English Dictionary says “caser,” in turn, might come from the Hebrew word for “crown” that in Ashkenazic is pronounced “keser.” The OED also says that in the early 1900s, some Americans called a dollar a “caser.”
Here’s an example from a poem called “The Glory of War” by Alfred Damon Runyon published in “The American Magazine” in 1907:
Left! Step! Left! Step! Why do men desert?
Thirteen casers every month, pants an’ hat an’ shirt
Further, the Dictionary of American Regional English says that in South Carolina, “caser” was another name for a silver dollar.
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Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”