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Greenbacks, Folding Green,
Lettuce and Cabbage

By Eric Shackle

"Always try to rub against money, for if you rub against money long enough, some of it may rub off on you." -- from A Very Honourable Guy, by Damon Runyon

Dough, moolah, rhino, spondulicks... there is more slang for money than for anything else apart from maybe sex and drink -- and since you might very well need money to obtain the other two, it should take pride of place. To that end, we've come up with some interesting facts about money -- slang, a bit of history, and a little geography. If nothing else, it should make for good cocktail party conversation one day.

Show me the money -- or the cabbage, bones, or Greenbacks

Jed Hartman, a writer in Mountain View, Calif., puts out the amusing and wide-ranging weekly Web-based column, Words & Stuff, and has a lot of money-based trivia on his The Roots of Money page.

According to Hartman, about 20 nations use the word dollar as their unit of currency today. The word apparently derives from taler, or thaler (a silver coin), which in turn comes from Joachimsthal, a place in Bohemia where the taler was created.

He also points out the etymological relationship between cows and money. The word pecuniary derives from peku, meaning both wealth and cattle (from Latin pecus) since cows used to be a medium of exchange -- and still are in many countries.

Seems the 1920s and 1930s were a very rich time for money slang, some of which are still around today. Many, Hartman presumes, referred to the buying of food: bacon, bread, and dough (sourdough was a term for counterfeit money). Cabbage, lettuce, kale, folding green and long green all obviously refer to the color of the American dollar.

Wait -- there's more: ace, bean, boffo (abbreviation of box office, referring to money collected at theaters), bone, buck, bullet, case note, clam, coconut, fish, frogskin, lizard, peso, rock, scrip, simoleon and yellowback are all slang for our dollar.

The old Spanish peso coin could literally be broken into eight pieces, each worth one real, or an eighth of a peso. The coins were called "pieces of eight" which later translated to a quarter dollar being equal to two bits: "Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar, come on (your home team here) get up and holler."

Dollar coins have come and gone ... and come again

U.S. silver dollars have been minted and issued at various times since 1794. Discontinued in 1935, they resumed with the introduction of the silverless Eisenhower dollar in 1971. The silverless Susan B. Anthony dollar replaced the Eisenhower coin in 1979 and just this year the gold-colored Sacajawea dollar was issued. Silver certificates, authorized in 1878 and issued in exchange for silver dollars, accounted for nearly all of the $1 notes in circulation up until November 1963, when the first $1 Federal Reserve notes were issued.

Dead presidents and friends -- who's pictured on our money?

Penny: Abraham Lincoln

$1 bill: George Washington

Nickel: Thomas Jefferson

$2 bill: Thomas Jefferson

Dime: Franklin D. Roosevelt

$5 bill: Abraham Lincoln

Quarter: George Washington

$10 bill: Alexander Hamilton

50 cents: John F. Kennedy

$20 bill: Andrew Jackson

$1 coin: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea

$50 bill: Ulysses S. Grant


$100 bill: Benjamin Franklin

($500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 denominations have not been printed since 1946.)

In 1864, after receiving numerous appeals from citizens urging that God be recognized on U.S. coins, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase authorized the use of "In God We Trust" on the two-cent coin. In 1955, after even more appeals, Congress mandated the use of this phrase on all currency and coins. They now all carry the phrase.

Right on the money

There are several towns and villages in the United States named for money. The Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names lists the following places that sport monetary monikers: Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee all have a Greenback; Alabama, Oregon and Tennessee have a Dollar; North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia all have a Buck; Alabama, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania have Bucks; Alabama and Pennsylvania have a Dime each; and Louisiana and Texas each have a Nickel. In Clackmannanshire, Scotland's smallest county, there's a village named Dollar -- near Dollarbank, Dollarbeg and the Burn of Sorrow. If you live in any of these places, you're really in the money.

ERIC SHACKLE is a retired journalist who spends much of his spare time surfing the Internet and writing about it. His articles have been published by leading newspapers including the New York Times, the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, and the Straits Times in Singapore.

Originally Posted at 10/06/00

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