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Q: Origin of the clam as slang for the US dollar ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Origin of the clam as slang for the US dollar
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: effingpot-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 02 Sep 2005 15:02 PDT
Expires: 02 Oct 2005 15:02 PDT
Question ID: 563680
Why is the US dollar referred to, in slang terms,  as a clam?

Over the last 2 years I have asked every US citizen I have met this
question and I have found NONE that know (or can find) the answer.
This includes a nice chap called Murray (a US nobel peace prize winner
from Albequeque that I sat next to on the flight back to London). I
offer only $2 for this answer as this is really a public service to
Americans from me (a Brit) to answer a question that every American
ought to know. In fact, you should really pay me for bringing this to
your attention, but I won't push it ;-).
Subject: Re: Origin of the clam as slang for the US dollar
Answered By: denco-ga on 02 Sep 2005 16:07 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Howdy effingpot-ga,

Actually, the word "clam" is short for "clamshell" which is another slang
term for a buck, a simoleon or a dollar.

I suppose you now want to know why the word "clamshell" means a smacker.

At one time, clamshells, in the form of many small ones strung together,
were a currency used by native Americans, mostly in California.

This DeAnza College quizola key page mentions them.$126?mode=day

"Clamshell made into 'strings' of money and these strings were the standard
of exchange."

"The Miwok" chapter from "Handbook of Indians of California" by A. L. Kroeber
(1919) goes into valuation details.

"Clamshell disk currency was less precious than in the north, though that may
have been one of the directions from which it reached the Miwok. Its value in
American terms is said to have averaged $5 a yard, only a fraction of the
figure at which the southern Maidu rated it. Whole strung olivella shells went
at $1 a yard among both groups."

The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology web site has some nice pictures
in their "Money and Wealth" section.

"Clam shell beads, strings"

Clamshells are used as currency still to this day, but by members of the
Yapese culture, and not in the Americas, according to this Yap Art Studio &
Gallery web page.

"Shell money is used as payments with stone money to purchase canoes, land,
or pay fines."

If you need any clarification, please feel free to ask.

Search strategy:

Google search on: slang clam dollar

Google search on: clamshell money OR currency

Looking Forward, denco-ga - Google Answers Researcher

Clarification of Answer by denco-ga on 02 Sep 2005 16:16 PDT
Also, unless "Murray" was the chap's nickname, or he was a ghost, I don't
think that he won the Nobel Peace Prize.  The only "winner" with "Murray"
as part of their name was Nicholas Murray Butler who won in 1931.

"Nicholas Murray Butler
President of Columbia University
Promoter of the Briand-Kellogg Pact."

Alas, he couldn't have been your flight mate because he died in 1947.

Looking Forward, denco-ga - Google Answers Researcher

Request for Answer Clarification by effingpot-ga on 03 Sep 2005 08:55 PDT
Thanks for the answer. I had a feeling wampum was in there too somewhere.

As for Murray check out

or search on Murray Gell-Man. He was on his way to present at a
conference in Abu Dhabi and I read his presentation so I'm pretty
confident he's alive and the same nobel winner you'll find referenced
on the web.


Clarification of Answer by denco-ga on 03 Sep 2005 11:20 PDT
Ah, one of Nobel Laureates!  Thanks for the clarification, Mike.

Yep, wampum was mistakenly thought to be a form of currency by the
settlers, and the slang has stuck around.

Looking Forward, denco-ga - Google Answers Researcher
effingpot-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: Origin of the clam as slang for the US dollar
From: denco-ga on 03 Sep 2005 11:21 PDT
Thanks for the 5 star rating, Mike.

Looking Forward, denco-ga - Google Answers Researcher

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