"The Buck Stops Here" (ca. 1930)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Apr 23 07:18:40 UTC 2005

>Can it be confirmed that both this and "passing the buck" are
>transfers from poker?  Please tell me that this isn't an
>etymythology; we all have to cling to *some*thing!

In this case the etymology story looks likely IMHO. "Pass the buck" had the
alternatives "shove the buck", "push the buck". In the old days it was
often "ante and pass the buck"; this is the form of the expression in the
earliest example I've found (Mark Twain, 1872), and it's kind of hard to
suppose that this is not poker-related: <<"I reckon I can't call that hand.
Ante and pass the buck.">>. "Pass the buck" meant "pass the deal",
apparently. The details are not known to me, but in some styles of poker
the dealer antes for everybody, and it may be that if he didn't want to
deal he could pass the deal but had to ante anyway. OTOH, in conventional
"jackpots" and similar games, IIRC, it often happens that no player opens
(*presumably* nobody having jacks or better), in which case there is
another ante and a new deal (!), typically dealt by the next person, so
"ante and pass the buck" might originally have been an expected event
rather than an instance of unusual deference or pusillanimity.

-- Doug Wilson

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