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Fifty G’s if you get this one

Lately I’ve been curious about some odd terms for describing American currency (even though I am an American myself).

1. Why is one thousand referred to as “grand” (i.e. one hundred grand)? And how did it degenerate into G (i.e. “5 G’s if you get this right”)?

2. Where did “bucks” come from? It seems to have no relation whatsoever to “dollars” and, although it’s easier to say, how the heck did it come to be?

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Second question first.

Did you know that the term "buck" was also applied to black men during the time that the United States (however united or disunited at the time) embraced the institution of slavery? Well, it turns out that this usage has nothing to do with "buck" for a dollar, which actually comes from buckskins (deerskins; the male deer is a "buck") used as a barter "currency." The ever-useful Snopes urban legends site has the story here:

The best explanation I've heard for "grand" is that it originated in betting on horse races, and that it was used as the name for the largest denominated bill in normal circulation. A modern, equivalent term, is "large," as in, "My wheels set me back fifty large," for "This car cost fifty thousand dollars."

Check out this Language Hat post for some more slang terms related to US currency:

speedwell2 November 5, 2004, 3:35am

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Has anyone heard the term "high society" as a term for 10k? I have only heard it in relation to cards or gambling.

plato47 November 5, 2004, 3:34pm

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Nate, that's cool. I've never heard it. A Google search on "high society" combined with "thousand dollars" returns less than 600 hits. The only hit that I see that links the two in meaning as you do is the hit for this page!

I'm interested. You may have the chance to do a little linguistic fieldwork. Where do you live? What sort of people do you hear using the term this way?

speedwell2 November 8, 2004, 2:49am

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When I head it I was living in Arizona. I only heard it when I was at the reservation gambling in overheard conversations. I though it was a local phrase but then I heard it used in the film Rounders. This led me to believe that it was a common term.

Having done a bit more research it seems whatever the highest chip value is at an establishment is refered to as High Society. Every refrence tio it beiing 10k is in refrence to the film. It looks like I was just late to see the film.

Nate November 8, 2004, 3:03pm

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Darn, i was hoping they were racist terms.

What is more interesting, since we are on an English site, is the term Quid in place of Pound Sterling.

Mike November 9, 2004, 4:12pm

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I heard a different story about bucks. The term comes from the common term for $10 bills: saw buck. Called such because a 10 in Roman Numerals 'X' looks like a saw buck. (A saw buck is used in pairs to hold up wood to saw thru.)

IngisKahn December 2, 2004, 8:05am

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Have to agree with Snopes that there is nothing racially offensive with the term "buck." It is a common male nickname, though not as common as it was 100 or 200 years ago. A buck is just a male of certain species (deer, squirrels, hampsters, gerbils, kangaroos, etc.). As a nickname, it may have also derived from "bucaroo."

ronhatcher December 4, 2004, 2:14am

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IngisKahn is correct. The term derives from two 'x's looking like a sawbuck.

panama December 4, 2004, 5:30am

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I always called them saw-horses.

Adam January 20, 2005, 7:48pm

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Yes     No