Ah, the ubiquitous dollar. We have many names for it. In this post we’ll cover a few of them.
In the 1550s the word dollar entered the English language. It referred to any number of coins of various values. Dollar comes from the German word thaler, an abbreviation of the word Joachimstaler, a word which referred to the coins minted in a town called Joachimstal, a village positioned in a valley, taler) & named for a chap called Joachim.
In 1836 Washington Irving coined the term almighty dollar, defining it as “that great object of universal devotion throughout our land.”
In 1855 some folks started calling dollars scads. Nobody’s certain about the source of the word scads, though some etymologists point toward a fish called the scad. Apparently the scaled, cold-blooded scads tend to travel in abundant schools. There is no singular form of the monetary scad, & by 1869 scads added the generalized meaning, large amounts. Connection? Nobody knows for sure.
In 1856 the word buck kicked in among American English speakers. Buck (meaning dollar) also has no verified source, though some have wondered whether bucks may have sprung from buckskins, which were used in some places as a unit of trade on the American frontier.
In 1862, Americans started calling dollars greenbacks. Before this, paper money was printed & issued by individual banks. The country’s paper money (initially known as demand notes) was printed in green ink, thus the name, greenbacks.
In 1895 the word simoleon entered the fray, though nobody’s sure why simoleon came to mean dollar, & nobody has found a connection to somewhat similar Roman coin names, the simbella & simodius.
About 1936 the word single came to mean dollar. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this happened. Single has been a word in English since 1400 & came from the Old French word sengle, which meant alone, unaccompanied, unadorned.
In the 1940s, for no reason I can find, some Americans started calling dollars rutabagas.
Any thoughts about all these monetary monikers? Please say so in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.