In So Many Words

Books of Educational and Informational Comics from Larry Paros


Book IX: The Sweet Buy and Buy (Economics)

Buy Any Means

Did all that wandering cause you to finally buy it? It was the British who first introduced the notion that when you buy it, you die. First used by their military early in the 19th century, buying it soon became a witty way of saying that you had paid for an action with your life.

When you buy it today, the last words likely to pass through your mind are, "Just slap it on the plastic!" The Greek plassein from which we get our plastic literally "molds" and "shapes" much of our shopping activity. But like the substance itself is flexible and easy to work with in its early stages. Once it has set and hardened, however, what you see is what you get.

Credit cards maxed out? There are alternatives. In simpler times, merchants kept perishable items in barrels to retain their freshness. After selecting the item you wanted from the barrel, you conveniently left your money atop the container — cash on the barrelhead, making it synonymous with "cash on the spot."

For those not so disposed, storekeepers and bartenders took IOUs, recording debts on their shirt cuffs which were then made of celluloid, allowing creditors to write on them in pencil and later wipe them clean. They were also portable and, like the collars, not sewn to the shirt.

Putting it on the cuff made for convenient bookkeeping — though the added interest later caused many to lose their shirt.

Nothing new here — usury and extortion have long been a part of Western history. During the 9th century, the Danes imposed a special tax on the Irish whose lands they occupied — those who refused to pay were punished by having their nose slit. Nothing to be sneezed at, we've been paying through the nose ever since.