Idiom or Modern Proverb: Put your money where your mouth is (antedating 1921 April 26)

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 24 21:41:22 UTC 2010

Random additional notes on the subject. If you want the punch line, go
to the very bottom of this note. (but before the original quoted text)

I am not even attempting to push this one back, but I found an
interesting instance from 1981 (GB tagged as 1903--no idea where they
got that date).
> When it comes to inbreds, we put our money where our mouse is.

The expression shows up in an ad from a Massachusetts supplier of lab mice.

There is a second hit for 1942 (yes, I know, the OED entry is so passe,
but still...). It's in the New Republic in an unknown issue on p. 144,
apparently under the title of Brooklyn (perhaps a poem).

The exact line may be of interest:

> Put your money where your mouth is--
> Put your behind on the table.

That's actually all that's visible in the snippet, aside from the title.

Interestingly, there is a /third/ 1942 quotation, from John Faulkner's
Dollar Cotton (date authenticity verified from Kirkus Review which says
the book was published a year after Men Working, which, in fact,
appeared in 1941).
> One boy who had just arrived paused at his side and said, "Put your
> money where your mouth is and let's get going."

It may also be helpful to have the full context of the 1942 Hurston
quote in the OED:

> "Put your money where your mouth is!" he challenged, as he mock-
> struggled to haul out a huge roll. "Back your crap with your money. I
> bet you five dollars!

On a different note, have you looked for any similarly metaphoric
comments that involve laying the money on the line? This may involve
using a different verb (put, put up, lay, bet, etc.), different
resources (money, cash, bet, etc.), different collateral (mouth, head,
heart, faith, etc.). Oops! I just gave away 60% of my search strategy
and made myself redundant... ;-)

For example, an interesting example--although quite a bit too late--is
form the American Schoolboard Journal for 1979 (GB claims 1903)

> If your school system is looking for a way to get an important message
> to the community, put your money where the ears are: radio.

Another variant shows up in the 1935 Paul Green novel This Body, the Earth:

> Put your money where your heart is, boys. Take it out of your pocket
> where it's hid away, resting.

Also, in 1931, in an industry journal article:

> The way I see it, you put your money where your heart is when you buy
> United States Savings Bonds

There is also 1915
Publicity and Progress; Herbert Heebner Smith, 1915, p. 21
> A man will put his money where his heart is. Arouse his interest and
> he becomes a friend and a contributor.

An alternative. (GB has two copies, one slated for 1876, the other for
1878--the actual citation is for 1877.)
The Home Missionary, January 1877
Scattereth, and Yet Increaseth, p. 220/2
> An old miser, who, to the amazement of everybody, gave to his village
> a town clock, stated that he liked to put his money where he could
> /hear it tick !/

A virtually identical like was used by Maud Wilder Goodwin in 1910
Veronica Playfair, attributing it to an "old Pennsylvania friend" of one
of the characters.

Another interdate--1928 or 1929, from
Rainbow round my shoulder: the blue trail of black Ulysses. By Howard
Washington Odum
> "Put your money where your mouth is." "It is down, turn them dam'
> cards you have fell." "Put that cold iron down, you cold black shine;
> low it and you won't it.

The reason this is of interest is because it suggests the context that I
initially suspected for the expression--gambling, card. Not poker,
really, because the better players don't talk about their hands, but one
never knows...

Here's another "precursor" (easily from the 1870s).

"Put your money where it will do most good."

This one is quotable, unlike the more routine, "Put your money where it
will get you the greatest return", or, "Put your money where it will be
absolutely safe", which are just run of the mill. And not only is it
quotable, it is actually quoted (attributed in 1873 to "a famous New
York Mayor").

Even earlier
Godey's Magazine: Lady's Book and Magazine, 1863
> ... it's a first-rate rule, child, as you'll find, to put your money
> /where it will show most/. That's the secret of my management.

Ah, yes, the crown jewels!
The marriage of Captain Kettle. By Charles John Cutcliffe Wright Hyne.
1912, p. 215
> "Captain?"
> "Yes, Mr. McTodd."
> "About yon black fellow the stewardess kenned. For why did he ask if I
> could do him a bit job ashore, and offer me a fi'pound note on account?"
> "I don't know. But naturally you told him you were engaged here, and
> he could put his money where the monkey put the nuts."
> "Man," said McTodd solemnly, "you'd never guess it of me, but I'll
> tell ye in confidence that I come form the North, and up there it's
> said to be unlucky if you refuse siller if it's as good as offered ye.
> So I--I angled him, and I landed the note. I changed it with the
> steward to make sure if was a good one."
Kate Meredith, financier. By Charles John Cutcliffe Wright Hyne. 1906.
p. 111
> You can let both Chips and the bo's'n understand that unless I see a
> good round sum in hard cash as my share of profits when we get back to
> Liverpool, they don't ride in the old /M'poso/ next trip. They can put
> their book debts where the monkey put the nuts. They don't pay me out
> with those. No, by Crumbs!


On 3/24/2010 3:41 PM, Garson O'Toole wrote:
> Many thanks for finding this superb cite and pointing out the utility
> of the Chronicling America database.
> Jesse Sheidlower wrote
>> Thanks for this antedating, Garson. Note that OED has this,
>> under MONEY n. Phrases P2.a.(n), with a first quotation from
>> Zora Neale Hurston in 1942.
> Thanks for your response. Glad I could help, and Stephen could provide
> additional help.
> I sometimes look for precursors to sayings, and the second OED cite in
> 1951 nicely includes another phrase used synonymously: put up or shut
> up. This saying implicitly shares the keywords money and mouth and is
> semantically aligned as shown in an expanded version in an earlier
> time frame:
> Citation: 1903 December, The Pall Mall Magazine, The Round Table: The
> Tidal Wave by W. L. Alden, Page 573, Volume 31, G. Routledge and Sons
> Limited.
> He flung his hat down on deck and jumped on it, and then he sung out
> to Anderson, 'I'll bet you a thousand dollars we get there before you
> do. Now put up your money or shut up your blasted mouth!'
> I have not tried to trace "put up or shut up", but it exists in the
> 1860s, years before the earliest known cite for "put your money where
> your mouth is".
> Garson

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