axle grease Australian slang for money, which greases the wheels of life, so to speak, helping things to run along more smoothly.
chicken feed Small change; a paltry or inconsequential amount of money. This American slang expression, which dates from 1836, is an allusion to the scraps and seeds fed to chickens.
fast buck Money acquired quickly and effortlessly, usually through illegal or unscrupulous methods. In this expression, buck carries the American slang meaning of dollar, making the origin of the term self-evident.
Trying to hustle me a fast buck. (A. Kober, New Yorker, January, 1949)
filthy lucre Money; money or other material goods acquired through unethical or dishonorable means, dirty money. This expression was first used in an epistle by St. Paul:
For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers … who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. (Titus 1:10-11)
a king’s ransom A very large sum of money. This expression, perhaps familiarized by the hefty sum demanded for the release of the kidnapped King Richard the Lion-Hearted, maintains frequent usage.
I couldn’t look upon the babby’s face for a king’s ransom. (Mrs. Anna Hall, Sketches of Irish Characters, 1829)
loaves and fishes Monetary fringe benefits to be derived from public or ecclesiastical office; the personal profit one stands to gain from an office or public enterprise. This use of loaves and fishes derives from John 6:26:
Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.
Today the phrase is also sometimes heard in referring to any unanticipated, miraculous proliferation or abundance. This emphasis on abundance rather than personal gain derives from the actual description of the miracle of the loaves and fishes (John 6:11-13).
mad money Money for frivolous purchases or little luxuries; money for a bit of riotous living-it-up. Originally mad money was that carried by a woman in the event her escort made advances prompting her to leave him in the lurch and finance her own return home. It subsequently came to be applied to money used for any emergency, but at some point took the grand leap from necessity to luxury Perhaps today it might qualify as what economists call discretionary income.
monkey’s allowance A trifling amount of money; a pittance; a paltry sum. This expression is derived from the saying, “He gets a monkey’s allowance—more kicks than halfpence.” At one time, trained monkeys performed tricks and then collected money from passers-by. If the monkey performed poorly, its owner often kicked or otherwise punished the animal. Thus, the monkey’s allowance was frequently more abuse than money. By extension, a person who receives a “monkey’s allowance” is one who works diligently but receives little, if any, payment for his labor. A related expression is monkey’s money ‘something of no value.’
nest egg Money saved, particularly a reserve fund for use in emergencies or retirement; a bank account or other form of investment which regularly increases in value by virtue of interest accrued or additional deposits made. Originally, a nest egg was a natural or artificial egg which was placed in a hen’s nest to induce her to lay eggs of her own. Though the term retains this connotation, it has been extended to imply that once a person has saved a certain amount of money, he is likely to save more.
A nice little nest egg of five hundred pounds in the bank. (John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, 1876)
pin money A small amount of money set aside for nonessential or frivolous expenditures; an allowance given to a woman by her husband. When common or straight pins were invented in the 13th century, they were expensive and relatively scarce, being sold on only one or two days a year. For this reason, many women were given a regular allowance called pin money which was to be saved until the pins were once again available for purchase. In the 14th and 15th centuries, it was not uncommon for a man to bequeath to his wife a certain amount of money to be used for buying pins. Eventually, as pins became cheaper and more plentiful, the pin money was used for trifling personal expenses, but the expression persisted.
If he gives me two hundred a year to buy pins, what do you think he’ll give me to buy fine petticoats? (Sir John Vanbrugh, The Relapse, 1696)
rubber check A bad check; a check not covered by sufficient funds. A check issued for an amount greater than the account balance is said to bounce, because it is returned to its payee.
She had bought the car and paid for it with a rubber check. (This Week Magazine, September, 1949)
a shot in the locker A reserve, usually financial; a last resource or chance. Locker is a nautical term for the compartment on board a vessel in which are stored ammunition, clothes, etc. Shot in the locker is literally stored ammunition; figuratively, it refers to a stash of money.
As long as there’s a shot in the locker, she shall want for nothing. (William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1848)
This expression is often heard in the negative not a shot in the locker, meaning no money or means of survival.
small potatoes See INSIGNIFICANCE.
sugar and honey Rhyming slang for money. This expression dates from the mid-19th century. Sugar alone is a popular slang term for money, in Britain as well as in the United States, where most people are unaware that the term is a truncated version of a rhyming slang expression.
widow’s mite See CHARITABLENESS.