"The Buck Stops Here" (ca. 1930)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Apr 23 14:52:53 UTC 2005

At 3:18 AM -0400 4/23/05, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>>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,

One is that the "buck" in question that designated the current dealer
is (as I understand it, although that's not part of the HDAS entry)
the handle of a buck knife (with the blade presumably pointing away
from the dealer).


>  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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