Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Money Monikers

By Kathy Kovach

While watching the 133rd Tournament of Roses Parade this year, I learned something new. A “horseless carriage”, upon which our modern-day shuttle bus was designed, entered the route. The hosts bantered their trivia facts, calling it a jitney. As I’m a lover of middle 19th to middle 20th century, I knew the term. I didn’t know it was named after the amount of currency it took to ride the shuttle. One nickel, or jitney as the coin was nicknamed then. Thus, the fare cost a jitney to ride a jitney.

This got me to pondering about slang terms for money. Thanks to gangster movies, I can hear Bugsy demanding his share of the loot, the moola, the smackers. “It’s gonna cost ya 50 Gs if ya want me and the boys to protect your business.” That alleviated the business owner of his last fifty thousand dollars, one thousand being a grand, or "G." Smackers, by the way, is enough money to smack someone in the face with.

Some money terms center around food.

Bread, or dough, comes from our need for nutrition. The prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” can be taken figuratively or literally, as it takes money to pay for bread. We ask God for the means to provide for our family. The term “breadwinner” gained popularity in the 1940s, strengthening the use of the term of the starchy substance.

Cabbage, lettuce, and celery, have all been used to describe a wad of bills due to the color.

Bacon is another food word to define money. “Bring home the bacon,” for instance. It was first quoted in the September 3rd, 1906 Reno Evening Gazette regarding the boxer Joe Gans. Upon his win, the announcer read a telegram from Gans’s mother. “Everybody says you ought to win. Peter Jackson will tell me the news and you bring back the bacon.”

Come to think of it, if you put together bread, lettuce, and bacon, you have three quarters of a BLT. Tomato is the missing ingredient, but Bugsy had a different meaning for that juicy fruit. It meant “girl” in his day.

Some slang suggested a form of barter.

Clams, for instance, comes from a time when clamshells were used as currency, particularly among the Native Americans from the California region. The Miwok people bartered and traded with strings of clamshells. Wampum is another term the paleface adopted, which originated with our indigenous people, taken from the word wampumpeag.

You may have heard the term two bits, which is a quarter. This comes from the Spanish 8 Reales, or “pieces of eight” coin on which the U.S dollar was initially based. One bit is equal to one eighth of a dollar, or twelve-and-a-half cents. Therefore, two bits is twenty-five cents and four bits is fifty cents. Rare are the six bits at seventy-five cents and eight bits which comprises the whole dollar.

Scratch and simolean are interesting nicknames. The former may have come from the phrase “starting from scratch.” Around the turn of the 20th century, the scratch line was drawn during sporting events, such as a race, boxing, or cricket. That’s where one started from. Used for money, starting from scratch means starting from the beginning, essentially, from nothing. It was later shortened to mean a small amount change. “Hey buddy, ya got some scratch ya could lend me?” This is a variation of, "Hey buddy, can you spare a dime?"

Simolean, which is my favorite on this list, is thought to be a combination of words. The word simon is slang for the British sixpence and was later used for the American dollar. A napoleon is a form of French currency. Our friend Bugsy used it back in the 30s when discussing his latest monetary acquisition. "Yeah, I cleaned him out, I tell ya. I got all the simoleans. All the beans. Nothin' left in the guy's pocket but some lint and an old racing card."

As I mentioned earlier, other names stem from the appearance of money. For instance, greenback is literally a dollar bill with a green back, the other side printed in black and white. In the mid-1800s, Congress authorized the U.S. Department of the Treasury to issue over $400 million in legal tender to finance the American Civil War. These non-interest-bearing Demand Notes didn’t have the secure backing of gold and silver and were looked down upon by banks who were reluctant to give the full value to customers. However, all U.S. currency issued since 1861 remains valid and redeemable at full face value.

Sawbuck is also a term based on the look of what is on the dollar. If you picture a sawhorse, which in the olden days was merely two pieces of wood lashed together to form an “X,” you can imagine that image in the form of a large Roman numeral seen on the early $10 bill. Saw, for sawhorse, and buck, the slang word for dollar.

Slang is fun, and learning where certain words came from is entertainment in itself. Can you use these words in a sentence? Make Bugsy proud and use your best New York gangster accent.

        • Shekel
        • Benjamin
        • Boodle
        • Cha-ching
        • Chump change
        • Stash


Titanic: Legacy of Betrayal
A secret. A key. Much was buried on the Titanic, but now it's time for resurrection.

Follow two intertwining stories a century apart. 1912 - Matriarch Olive Stanford protects a secret after boarding the Titanic that must go to her grave. 2012 - Portland real estate agent Ember Keaton-Jones receives the key that will unlock the mystery of her past... and her distrusting heart.

To buy: Amazon

Kathleen E. Kovach is a Christian romance author published traditionally through Barbour Publishing, Inc. as well as indie. Kathleen and her husband, Jim, raised two sons while living the nomadic lifestyle for over twenty years in the Air Force. Now planted in northeast Colorado, she's a grandmother, though much too young for that. Kathleen is a longstanding member of American Christian Fiction Writers. An award-winning author, she presents spiritual truths with a giggle, proving herself as one of God's peculiar people.

Blog With A Giggle


  1. Cha-ching! Hey boss, you'd be prouda me! That guy you sent me after tried to give me his chump change, but I knocked all the stash outta him, he doesn't have a boodle, Benjamin or even a shekel rattlin' in his pockets no more! You gonna give me my cut now, Boss?
    LOL! Thanks for posting, hope I did Bugsy proud!

  2. I love it! Perhaps you should give gangstering a try. You sure have the lingo down. lol

  3. I love this post! Some I knew others were new to me. Thanks!