Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fin, Family and Slang

Above is a "fin", a five dollar bill. It's a slang term which had been relegated to the dump heap until recently, where it has made a comeback in the street level drug trade.

For me the term "fin", as well as the slang term for the $10 bill, or a "sawbuck", belong to another era, back in the 1950's, when I was a small child. I was fascinated with these terms, words which I heard my dad use, frequently when talking to his brother Richie. And there were the times when my Dad would take me to a bar, to collect on some work he had done on the HVAC systems, and the owners were rough hewn "mob" types. In places like those, "fin", "sawbuck" and "double sawbuck" were normal expressions. But where did those words come from?

Let's start with the "fin", pictured above. "Fin" is slang for the old German word "funf", or five, which became Yiddish and was pronounced "finf", and sometimes as "finnif." This was low level slang.

Moving up the chain there was the "sawbuck", or $10 bill, which derived from the device used to hold wood for cutting into lengths that would fit into a fireplace, or stove. The term originated because the first ten dollar bills issued had the Roman numeral "X" for ten on one corner. "Buck" had long been established to mean a dollar, so putting the two together was kind of a natural.

For bigger jobs there was the elusive "double sawbuck", or $20 bill. And after that was the "half a yard" for $50 dollars, a "C" note, or a "yard", was for $100 dollars (the "C" stood for Century, which is rather self explanatory), and then there was the holiest of all, the dreaded "large", as in, "You owe me 5 large", or $5,000 dollars, as in "grand."

I kind of miss these terms. I know that language evolves, and that's a good thing. But as it does, I get older. I'm still not sure how I feel about that!

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