No Matter What You Call It…Money Talks!
by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel
With the income tax deadline looming shortly the topic of money is surely mentioned frequently in most households. Questions like “How should we spend our income tax refund?” or “How much will we have to pay in income taxes this year?” seems to be the question of the day when thinking about the April 15th filing deadline. With this subject of money in mind, I began to think of just how many terms are used when talking about money. Whether it is a slang terminology or one routed in historical background, the origins of words that describe money are certainly interesting. We know the meaning of many of these slang words by watching old black and white movies on television. The words often seem antiquated when hearing them now when watching a film made over six decades ago. For instance the word “clams”, slang for dollar, was a popular term in during the 1940’s and heard a lot in the old gangster movies. I’m sure Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart must have uttered this expression hundreds of times in their roles. How did this word come to mean money? The word “clam” might have started to be used way back in ancient times in China, India and the Southeast Asia when various shells were used as an exchange. Even our Native Americans used “wampum” in the 19th century, which included clam shells.
Dough – This is another word I’ve heard used as often as the word clam in the 1940’s movies we’ve watched. The word was used back around the 1850’s and had a political background in its beginning. It was used in a negative fashion to describe Northern Democrats who worked for the South to earn money preceding the Civil War. They were called “doughfaces” to describe the Northerners who made money by being “political puppets” of the South, being molded like dough to do the bidding of the southerners for financial gain. Even today the word “dough” is understood when using it to describe money, even without any political overtones.
Buck – This is probably the most popular word used in place of “money”. Its origin was thought to have derived from when buckskins were traded back in the mid 1800’s. It was also referred to when trading other animal skins such as sheep, rabbit, goat or antelope by both the frontiersmen and the Native Americans.
Shekel – This word I remember from my Sunday school classes and listening to our minister reading Bible lessons from the pulpit. It is a real word and still used today because it is the currency of Israel, even though in English it has become a slang term for money or cash. Even though it had biblical usage, it became the official currency of Israel in 1980. Its historical beginning came from ancient Babylonia where it was a unit of weight. Back then it was a sheqel, a coin minted in silver by the ancient Hebrews.
As we see, money is a fascinating topic whether talking about how to earn it, spend it or its word origins