January 15, 2008

#01-062: Show Me the Money!: Money Idioms

close-up candid photo of actor Tom Cruise smiling
Tom Cruise starred in Jerry Maguire, the
film that suggested the title for this lesson.

Note: English has a lot of idioms regarding money. Let's learn a few!

Get Ready: After his meal, a man says to his waiter, "Can I use plastic?" What do you think he means?

Ted and Marcus are brainstorming about starting a business. You will find ten well-known expressions about money in this conversation.

Ted: So, what kind of business should it be?

Marcus: I don't care, as long as it's a cash cow.

Ted: Seriously? All you care about is making a fast buck?

Marcus: Correction: *megabucks!*

Ted: Geez, we can't take shortcuts. "There's no such thing as a free lunch," you know.

Marcus: I just want to get on the gravy train. None of this Nickel-and-dime stuff for me!

Ted: Well, I think it's important to consider the risks of a high-volume business.

Marcus: For example?

Ted: Well, the more transactions we make, the higher the chance of accepting rubber checks.

Marcus: What if we just take plastic?

Ted: That's an even higher risk!

Marcus: Still, if we low-ball the competition, and arrange kickbacks from the suppliers...

Ted: Yikes! Maybe going into business with you isn't such a good idea after all!


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Maguire

Practice: Here are the ten money idioms Ted and Marcus used in their conversation. See if you can guess the meaning from the way they used the terms above. Check your answers in the first comment to this lesson before reading the explanations below. 

  1. cash cow
  2. fast buck
  3. free lunch
  4. gravy train
  5. kickback
  6. low-ball
  7. megabucks
  8. nickel-and-dime
  9. plastic
  10. rubber check

  1. a kind of bribe
  2. a low bid or offer, often unfair
  3. a payment that cannot be completed
  4. a position that provides easy money
  5. big money
  6. credit card(s)
  7. money made easily
  8. small amounts of money
  9. something given, but usually expecting something in return
  10. something that provides a steady supply of money

Answers are in the first comment below.

Explanation of the Answers: After you check your answers in the first comment below, read on for more information on the ten idioms.

  1. cash cow: Milk cows turn grass into milk, with little effort from the farmer; a cash cow does something similar. It's a product or service that yields a high return over a long period, often for a little effort. "I'm glad we added translation services to our language school; they're a real cash cow."
  2. fast buck: "Buck" means dollar. So a "fast buck" is money made quickly. This often has a negative connotation: "Don't trust that guy; he's always trying to make a fast buck."
  3. free lunch: This is part of an expression: "There's no such thing as a free lunch." It means that (usually) people in business don't give things away. If someone offers to treat you to lunch, you should expect her or him to ask for something from you.
  4. gravy train: Another expression regarding "easy money." Dry meat is not always tasty; meat with gravy is luxurious. We also use "gravy" to mean "easy," similar to "a piece of cake." "How was your presentation, Joe?" "It was gravy." So if Susan gets a comfortable, well-paying job with few responsibilities, we might say, "Susan's riding the gravy train."
  5. kickback: Art is buying widgets for his company. Paul wants Art to buy his widgets. So Paul says, "Buy my widgets for 100 each. After your company pays me, I'll give you 10 per widget 'under the table.'" This is the first meaning of kickback, where Paul "kicks back" to Art a sort of unethical rebate. The term may also be used more generally whenever a payment is made to influence a decision.
  6. low-ball: To underbid (usually unfairly) on a project or purchase. "ABC Company low-balled the other bidders, and made up the difference by using inferior materials."
  7. megabucks: "Mega" means "a lot of," and you know "bucks." "Jeff Bezos has megabucks!"
  8. nickel-and-dime: Refers to small amounts of money. In American coins, a nickel is five cents, and a dime is ten. This can be an adjective or a verb: "We can't afford to take on nickel-and-dime projects," or "My sales staff will nickel-and-dime me into bankruptcy with their expenses."
  9. plastic: This word has many meanings; in terms of financial idioms, the main one is "credit cards." "How are we going to pay for the materials we need?" "We'll just use plastic." (This is the answer to "Get Ready" above!)
  10. rubber check: When a check is returned because there is not enough money in the bank to cover it, we say, "the check bounced" (it came back to the sender). Such a check is then called "a rubber check."

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 15, 2008

This lesson received 160 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and July, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. g; 3. i; 4. d; 5. a; 6. b; 7. e; 8. h; 9. f; 10. c