In So Many Words

Books of Educational and Informational Comics from Larry Paros


Book VIII: Making IT (Success)

Buck You!

For many their world is a stage on which to do a number on someone — "humiliate an adversary totally." When doing a number on the stage, you simply "performed your assigned role." Doing a number on someone (1960s-70s) meant you incorporated him into your act, putting him totally at your beck and call.

This often entailed the other party getting the short end of the stick, from the ritual of breaking the wishbone of a cooked bird — the person with the long end getting his wish, and the one with the short, left with nothing. It also derived from the drawing of straws to determine who would have to do an unpleasant or dangerous task. In either case, responsibility was passed on.

Passing the buck has long been an American tradition, ever since the first settlers received deerskins in barter with the Native Americans. Though the skins of both the male and female deer were traded, the skin of the male deer, the buck, was more highly valued.

Between 1700 and 1750, a quarter to half million buckskins were traded annually on the American frontier. By 1720 they had become a unit of exchange and a measure of wealth, and people called them bucks. About 1856 they became identified with our most popular currency, the dollar.

How did we come to pass the buck? Card players used to keep a marker in front of them to serve as a reminder as to whose deal it was. The marker used was frequently a silver dollar, hence the reference to it as the buck — which passed from player to player each time the deal changed. The expression, passing the buck then became synonymous with placing responsibility elsewhere.

Don't really care? "Just bag it," you say. Uh-uh. As Harry Truman reminded us, "The buck stops here."