How Did the Word "Dough" Come to Mean Money?

by Tom Streissguth
"Dough" has survived nearly two centuries as a slang term for money.

Of the many terms in English for money that have come and gone over the years, "dough" has survived. Although the first use is not recorded, it seems "dough" entered the world of print some time in the middle of the 19th century. Experts have traced the origins of this use to the easy association of dough with bread -- along with money, one of life's necessities.

Etymology

The word "dough" has roots in the languages spoke in northern Europe which became ancestors of modern English. In Old English, the word for uncooked bread was "dag." This word originated in "dheigh," a root meaning to knead or form, from ancient Indo-European. Related words include "teig" in German, "deg" in Swedish and Dutch, and "dej" in danish.

Dough and Money

Although it's impossible to trace the exact date of the first slang usage of "dough" as a term for money, it seems to have originated in the 19th century. Since bread was the traditional everyday necessity of life, to earn one's living was to earn one's bread, therefore bread became synonymous with money. On some unknown day, an individual whose identity is lost to historians simply substituted the word dough, and a new slang term came into use.

Authoritative Sources

The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary found the earliest printed use of "dough" as a slang term for money in 1851: "He thinks he will pick his way out of the Society’s embarrassments, provided he can get sufficient dough.” The quote appeared in the Yale Tomahawk, a publication of Yale's Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity.

Other Sources

John Russell Bartlett's Dictionary of Americanisms, published in 1848, predates the Tomahawk, however. In this volume, Bartlett's entry for "tin" related several other synonymous slang terms for money, including "dimes," "rocks," "kelter" and "dough."

About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.

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