Grand (one thousand)

Well, it’s still a lot to me.

Dear Word Detective: My husband and I were watching TV, and the common word “grand” was used for “one thousand dollars.” Can you tell me the origin of this usage? I have found one place that says it started with bookies in the 1920’s, but that is all I can locate. — Annie Rowland, Marble Falls, Texas.

sawbuck08.pngThat’s an interesting question. Incidentally, has it ever struck anyone else as odd that the word “bookie” is reserved for people who facilitate illicit gambling (from keeping the “books,” or ledgers, of bets), and isn’t used for people who enjoy reading books, who have to travel under the awkward and vaguely creepy label “book lovers”? I may be a little sensitive on this subject, because many years ago I wrote a book called “The Book Lover’s Guide to the Internet,” and I can’t help but suspect that “The Bookie’s Guide…” would have sold better. (Yes, I know that makes no sense.)

By the way, that book is still for sale in many places. Please do not buy it. It was last updated in 1996, which, in internet terms, was approximately the 15th century.

Speaking of the 15th century, that’s when English adopted the Old French word “grant” (ultimately from the Latin “grandis,” great or large) as “grand,” with the sense of not simply “large,” but also “imposing” or “great, famous, exalted or important.” Over the next few centuries “grand” was frequently used in official titles (e.g., Grand Marshall), as well as in informal appellations honoring individuals (“grand old warrior,” etc.), and applied to events and things judged to be of great importance. Eventually, “grand” took on a more general sense in the popular vocabulary of “impressively large” (e.g., Grand Canyon) or “noble.” (The use of “grand” in “grandfather” and “grandmother,” however, is rooted in parallel terms in French, and actually predates the use of the “large” sort of “grand” in English by a century.)

Over the years, “grand” also acquired a variety of vernacular and slang senses, including “grand” meaning a large piano, as well as such forms as “grand prize” and “grand slam,” the latter once a term in whist or bridge, now used to mean “complete triumph” in any field.

The use of “grand” to mean “one thousand dollars” does indeed come from American underworld slang, first appearing around 1915. It was one of a number of slang terms, some still in use, for specific denominations of bills (or that amount of money), including “c-note” (or “century note”) for a one-hundred dollar bill (from the Roman numeral “C,” denoting 100). A “sawbuck” was a ten-dollar bill, from the resemblance of the Roman numeral “X” (ten) that once appeared thereon to a sawhorse, and a twenty-dollar bill was known as, logically, a “double sawbuck.”

The use of “grand” for a thousand dollars (or a thousand-dollar bill) may seem puzzling in this day of hedge-fund managers and their billion-dollar bonuses, but in 1915 one thousand dollars was a very large sum of money, far more than the average working stiff would ever possess at one time. So it made sense to pay tribute to such an impressive sum with the word “grand,” and the name stuck.

14 comments on this post.
  1. JoeGottman:

    I always thought this had something to do with the crime of grand theft, which (at least in some places) meant the theft of at least a thousand dollars.

  2. James M. Grandone:

    Great, Famous, Important, or Exalted are my preferred uses for the word. My last name is Grandone and I have searched long and hard to find its origin. That is, since I am none of the above, just curious where such a curious name came from. Wish someone knew.
    Please let me know if anyone out there has the facts.
    Have a grand evening.

    Jim

  3. Don Dierdorff:

    I thought that perhaps a “grand” might be used to describe a $1,000 bill due to the president on the $1,000 bill, Grover Cleveland – the first part of “Grover” and the last part of “Cleveland” “Gr” “and”- hence grand. Just a thought.

  4. Kurt kandy:

    The Grand Watermellon was a 1,000 dollar bill that was sold for well over 2 million for its special print to a collector. I thought that the word “grand” for thousand dollars was derived from that one famouse bill.

  5. Rachael:

    Thank You for this information… i have been wondering why people have started using grand for 1000 units of any currency, but i never got a very convincing answer.. this will definitely help subside my curiosity.

  6. Scott:

    Other than “six figures”, is there a nickname for $100,000?

  7. Norma Grandone:

    Hi James, my husband’s last name is also Grandone. You can look up the meaning of the name by going to Google and asking for the origin of the name. You can also get the “Coat of Arms” for the name. It goes back in history to the 700’s. Good luck

  8. two bob:

    It’s english not american slang [rude term removed]

  9. Dan S.:

    “Grand” meaning “$1,000″ is often abbreviated to simply “G”, as in “20G” for $20,000. But these days, “metric” prefixes are becoming commonplace, so $20,000 might also be called “20k” (or $20k). Which can get confusing, because G as a prefix means 1,000,000,000 (one billion). The result is that $20G is a million times more than 20G.

    As for “grand slam”, I had always thought the baseball usage (a home run with bases loaded, scoring 4 runs) was the original one, but apparently that’s not the case.

  10. John van Schagen:

    The name ‘grand’ for $ 1,000 comes from a $ 1,000 banknote with the portrait of Ulysses Grant, 18th president of the USA. The banknote was called a “Grant”, which overtime became ‘grand’.

  11. Dodger300:

    Ulysses Grant is on the $50 bill, not the $1000 bill.

  12. venus:

    thank you for the this detailed information.. you have made it very clear the meaning of ‘ Grand’s its very useful…

  13. Ange:

    Thanks – very interesting info.
    Where4 does the word “”K”” for 1000 Grand comes from? “Does anybody know?

    Thank you

    Ange

  14. J. Pastor:

    ‘k’ is not a term for 1 grand or 1000 grand or anything related to “grand.”

    It’s the standard abbrev. for the metric prefix “kilo,” as in “kilogram,” which means “1000 grams.” Similarly, ‘m’ stands for “mega” which means million, ‘g’ for “giga” which means billion, and so on.

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