"heads I win – tails you lose"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sat Dec 29 17:13:50 UTC 2001

I have been working resolutely through the "Evening Star" of New York
in the mid 1830s.  The editor was Mordecai Noah, and his earlier
newspapers -- the National Aadvocate and the New-York Enquirer -- had
been pretty good sources for interesting words.  Not much in this one,
so far, though.  I have learned that the businessmen who work on Wall
Street don't choose to live in the city, but instead commute in every
day from their country estates, out near Astor Place.  Also a spine-
tingling ghost story: in an unspecified house, the bells in the
servants quarters began ringing at odd hours, and when the maids went
to answer there was no one there.  The servants all quit, not choosing
to be summoned by ha'nts, and the children were afraid to go to sleep
at night.  Then someone caught the family cat playing with the bell

But I digress. . . .

1835:   In relation to the [stock] brokers, we fear it has been "heads
I win – tails you lose"
        Evening Star, January 17, 1835, p. 2, col. 3

I see in the OED, sense 3b, under Head, noun, citations giving this
phrase from 1846 and 1907, both English.  Whiting's Early American
Proverbs has it from 1814.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African
Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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