To Coin A Phrase

Have you ever given thought to the number of expressions that refer to money? Take a look at the phrases below to learn how currency plays an important role in our everyday language. Would you like to add an expression to the list? Complete the form at the end and submit it to us; it won't cost you a thing, not one red cent.

 

 

Origins of "To Coin a Phrase"

The words "to coin" can be used as a verb with a literal meaning to mint a coin. In 14th century Europe, the term "coining" was associated with inventing words.  In the late 16th century, "coining a phrase" implied the invention of a series of words used to complete a sentence.

 

Groat _Henry VI

 

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Dollars to Doughnuts

The expression "dollars to doughnuts" has been used in America since the late nineteenth century.

 

Peace _obv

 

The phrase implies being so confident in your decision that you are willing to bet a dollar against something of no perceived value. The first literary example was published in an Ellery Queen novel in the 1920's, "I'll bet dollars to doughnuts Fields played the stock market or the horses."

 

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Two-Bit

The term "two-bit" refers to something (or someone) that is inferior or worthless: a two-bit actor. When a Spanish 8 reales was cut into quarters to make small purchases, each quarter was worth two reales or two -bits. In the United States foreign coins were legal tender until 1857 and a Spanish two-bit would be the equivalent of twenty five cents.

 

Pieceseight Med

 

Thanks to Max Spiegel for the submission.

 

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Penny-Wise, Pound Foolish

A phrase meaning that a person is careful with small amounts of money but careless with big expenditures. At the time this expression was first used, a British pound was worth 240 pennies. A pound is now worth 100 pennies or pence.

 

Pennypound _web

 

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Chiseler

Chisler _webDating back to ancient civilizations, coins have been made from precious metals. Struck by hand, ancient and many medieval coins were not uniform in shape and lent themselves to" shaving" or "chiseling" by unscrupulous citizens. By taking a small amount from the edge of each coin before spending it, a person could amass enough silver or gold to sell for a profit in no time. While the history behind the word "chiseler" is somewhat obscure, it is believed that the word received its meaning from the act of chiseling metal away from coins. Reeding was introduced to a coin's edge to discourage chiseling.

 

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Just Joshing

W1801433_insetJosh Tatum was a deaf mute who was able to use an oversight of the Mint to his advantage. In 1883, the Mint produced the newly designed Liberty nickel. On the reverse of the coin, the design featured a Roman numeral "V" but nowhere did the word "cents" appear. Realizing an opportunity, Mr. Tatum had several of the newly minted cents electroplated with a thin layer of gold. Tatum then traveled to various stores, buying items with a value less than 5 cents. When the clerk rang the item up, Tatum handed over one of the gold plated nickels. The store clerks usually assumed that the coin was a $5 gold piece and would give Mr. Tatum change. Tatum amassed quite a bit of money before being caught by police. He was found innocent of charges since by being mute, Tatum never represented that the coin was a $5 gold piece.

 

The Mint soon realized the error of their ways and redesigned the nickel to show the word "cents" later in the same year. Josh Tatum's flirt with the Law gave birth to the phrase, "I'm just joshing you."

 

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My Two Cents Worth

An American expression that is taken from the British "my tuppence worth." The phrase is used to offer a sense of politeness and humility to a statement that may seem contentious. It is believed that the phrase originated during the days of $0.02 postage when someone had the ability to express their opinion in the form of a letter to someone of importance.

 

2centsworth _web




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Greenbacks

Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase suggested to Congress in 1862 that the government issue its own paper currency. On February 25, 1862, Congress passed the Legal Tender Act. In response to the act, $150 million in Treasury notes were printed. Green ink was used on one side of the notes and the popular nickname "Greenbacks" began.

 

Greenback _web

 

 

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing states that green ink was originally used because unlike other colors, the protective green ink could not be removed from authentic notes. The measure foiled counterfeiters who used black and white photography to produce counterfeit currency.

 

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A Penny for Your Thoughts

 

The phrase, "A penny for your thoughts" first appears in the book Proverbes by John Heywood published in 1546. The book was re-printed in 1906. Figuring in the rate of inflation in the United States, a thought that cost a penny in 1906 would cost about 19 cents today.

 

Penny Thoughts _web

 

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Your Two-Cents Worth (submit a numismatic phrase to add to the list)