October 16, 2016
Put your money where your mouth is.
This phrase has bubbled up for me because of a topic I have addressed before: Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the National Anthem.
For those who don’t know, Kaepernick is the QB of the San Francisco 49ers, an NFL football team. Last week, he was named the starter for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills. More about that later.
For now, let’s look into the origin of famous saying in question.
What Is the Origin of This Saying?
From What I found, the origin isn’t very clear. But I found a bunch of answers from the Stack Exchange website.
The question was started by Ellie Kessleman on September 28, 2014. There were four answers. The OP asked about the meaning of the phrase “Put your money where your mouth is” after hearing a Canadian (from Vancouver) utter it. Kessleman looked up the term on Wikipedia but could not find the meaning in that article.
A Few Answers
A user who went by the name Hugo cited a 1913 article from the New-York Tribune. When I visited the page, I found an article entitled, “Senators in Clashes over Wool Schedule” about two U.S. Senators, from Utah and Texas. Here is a screenshot of the article in question:
A user called Sven Yargs gave what is perhaps the best answer in the thread, although others gave supplemental information afterword. Sven Yarg’s post was last updated on March 29, 2016.
The earliest source Sven Yargs gave was the Methodist Episcopal Church Year Book (1881) has the line “put their money where their faith is.” Open my own viewing, it appears those words were from page 67 of the document and signed by W.G. Queal (President) and L.C. Floyd (Secretary).
It should be noted that other sources Sven Yargs listed showed some variations of the phrase, as well:
- The Railroad Telegrapher (1905), has the phrase “Put your money where your interests are” on page 1291. The work was marked for the year 1905.
- Publicity and Progress (1915) has the line “Put your money where your heart is.”
- The Harvester World was published in April 1919. In it can be found “Put his money where his heart is.”
A user called pat underwood claimed that the phrase “Put your money where your mouth is came from England. The story behind the claim involved con men from the 17th or 18 century who sold toads as a cure-all. The con men would put the toads in their mouths in order to show their marks that doing so was safe.
What I Found on My Own
A post with the phrase from Blogger was also mentioned, although I first saw it in my own search. In this blog post, On Line English Teacher Dave talks about two theories about the origin of the phrase “Put your money where your mouth is.” One theory is that the phrase originated in Irish pubs, where pub-goers would play gambling games. Another theory is that the phrase came from Poker.
When continuing my own search, I came across this passage from Robert Kasternbaum’ On Our Way: The Final Passage Through Life and Death:
Charon became a more definite character when the golden age of Greek drama and poetry polished up the hoary myths and added its own nascent sensibilities. The river, given various names in the past, now was definitely “the Hated,” better known as the Styx. If the scene has been the American Southwest, it might instead have been called the Rio Morte, an ominous flowing boundary between the lands of the living and the dead. Charon himself was a surly fellow, probably assured of permanent employment and not inclined to take guff from any mere mortal. Even though he no longer guarded Hades, he did require proper deportment and hard, ringing coin before he would boat the travelers to the other side. Greek burial customs included placing a coin in the mouth of the deceased to pay Charon’s fare. Perhaps this is the origin of the injunction to “put your money where your mouth is.” In any event, for Greeks of the classical era the journey of the dead was a pay-as-you-go proposition.
If this is correct, the phrase has an ancient Greek origin.
What Does ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’ Mean?
In short, “Put your money where your mouth is” means that the person being addressed must back up their words with actions. Even if you put this in a gambling sense, it means that a gambler must risk a sum of money in order to win a prize.
Additionally, the phrase may have some relation to “Put up or shut up.” (This was also mentioned by Sven Yargs.)
As stated by Julie Cresswell in The Cat’s Pyjamas: The Penguin Book of Clichés:
When the chips are down you find out if your gamble has paid off or not. If it is your call you may find you have to put your money where your mouth is or, more rudely, put up or shut up. A nineteenth-century expression, ‘put up or shut up’ has been connected either with gambling, demanding that a player produce his bet or keep quiet, the more probable source; or else with a simple challenge to put your fists up or keep silent.
So, What About Kaepernick?
Well, I wanted to write this beforehand, but it’s better to address this after the game between the 49ers and Bills concluded. The game started off well enough with Kaepernick passing for multiple first downs and rushing for them, as well. He did a nice job of moving the offense in the first half. However, the final score was 45-16 Bills.
Now, I mention this because Kaepernick’s success (or failure) will ultimately be tied to his protest. He was already a controversial figure, given how he was initially given a starting gig (with the 49ers), but his protest of the national anthem gave many (more) people reason to attack him. And if he fails on the field, this will only serve to undermine the issues he was talking about.
To be honest, I’m on the fence here. While I don’t agree with many of the reactions to Kap’s protest, I have to wonder if he is entirely sincere. He announced that he planned to give $1 million dollars to communities impacted by police abuses, but what does he plan to do beyond that? Hence the application of “put your money where your mouth is.”
Cresswell, Julia. The Cat’s Pyjamas: The Penguin Book of Clichés. Penguin Books. 2007. Print.
Kasternbaum, Robert. “Chapter Nine: Journey of the Dead.” On Our Way: The Final Passage Through Life and Death. University of California Press. 2004. Print. Page 315.
On Line English Teacher Dave. “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.” Blogger. 8 Apr 2010. Web. Retrieved 16 Oct 2016. <http://english-lessons-on-line.blogspot.com/2010/04/put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is.html>.