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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Show Me the Money!


What do you think George means when he says "plastic" (above)?


English has a lot of idioms regarding money. Match these ten to their meanings:

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

a. a kind of bribe
b. a low bid or offer, often unfair
c. a payment that cannot be completed
d. a position that provides easy money
e. big money
f. credit card(s)
g. money made easily
h. small amounts of money
i. something given, but usually expecting something in return
j. something that provides a steady supply of money


"George" means cash is better than a credit card, one meaning of "plastic."

The expression in the title, "Show Me the Money," is from the 1996 film Jerry Maguire.


1. What other English idioms about money can you think of?
2. Does your language have expressions like these?
3. Use each idiom above in a sentence.


1. Cash cow (j): 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 (g): "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 (i): 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 something or you.

4. Gravy train (d): 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 Joe gets a comfortable, well-paying job with few responsibilities, we might say, "Joe's riding the gravy train."

5. Kickback (a): 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 (b): 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 (e): "Mega" means "a lot of," and you know "bucks." "Bill Gates has megabucks!"

8. Nickel-and-dime (h): 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 (f): 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."

10. Rubber check (c): 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."

This lesson is ©2012 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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