Wednesday, July 28, 2010

MAD MONEY For Mad Men (or Women)....the original of the phrase

We were listing this 1950’s “Mad Money Case” on (our online sales page) when we started wondering what the origin of that term could be, in addition to speculating about the amount of items you could actually BUY with your mad money coins in the 1950’s! 

“Mad money” seems to be interchangeable with the phrase “pin money”, so Helen went to work researching.

Both phrases seemed somewhat sexist in origin, referring to the allowance that a husband gave his wife for stereotypical “feminine” expenses such as pins to secure their clothing.

The phrase “pin money” is said to have originated in the Middle Ages in England, when pins, handmade at the time, were scarce and quite expensive. Credited with popularizing French-made pins in the mid-1500’s was Henry VIII’s 5th wife Catherine Howard, who was eventually beheaded.

To prevent the upper class from hoarding these “luxury” items, England ultimately passed a law allowing pin makers to sell their wares only on specific days of the year. This allowed women of all classes to save up enough “pin money” to afford to buy perhaps at least one pin when these scarce items next came to market. 

When the Industrial Revolution introduced a plethora of available pins, the price dropped and “pin money” became then known as a wife’s pocket money regardless of its intended use, later to imply any type of incidental expenses.

The first documented printed use of the phrase “pin money” was credited in 1697 to British architect Sir John Vanbrugh (known for designing famous Blenheim Palace after a brief imprisonment at the Bastille when accused of being a spy!) 

“Mad money”, the American version of this British idiom seems to have been coined much later. 

 In a 1922 article on Bryn Mawr slang, Howard J. Savage defined ”mad money” as “money a girl carries in case she has a row with her escort and wishes to go home alone.'" Since it was almost unheard in those days  for a young lady to not to have a gentleman escort her home, perhaps the terms meant that she was mad, or angry at the young man for perhaps an indecent advance, and used the money to get herself home alone. 

In 1946, C.M. Woodard re-defined “mad money” to include “…Also money used by a girl or woman for small purchases.” 

Webster’s 3rd Dictionary (1961) was the first to record this term with both the meanings: “carfare carried by a girl on a date to provide a means of escaping her escort in the event of unwanted familiarities; broadly: a small sum carried by a woman for emergency use” and Random House Dictionary listed ‘mad money” as “a small sum of money carried by a woman on a date to enable her to reach home alone in case she and her escort quarrel and separate.” 

 Currently, the phrase seems to translate to “money spent foolishly or frivolously on the spur of the moment for something you don’t really need”…..intimating that the woman’s state of mind is “mad” as she frivolously spends her cache. Hmmm…