Last month, Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, was sentenced to six years in prison for accepting more than $300,000 in bribes—which he referred to as “ziti”—from two businesses seeking favorable action from state government, reported the Daily News.
Percoco, a wannabe Goodfella who used the term “ziti” in reference to The Sopranos, is just the latest in a long line of criminals who couldn’t stop thinking about their mom’s lasagna long enough to count a single dollar without thinking, “Hmmm, I could go for some tortellini right about now.” Which is why most of the nicknames that have been used to describe cash money are food related. Here are some of our favorites…
Bread or Dough: We begin this list of money nicknames with the king of carbohydrates—bread. According to wisebread.com, people suspect that using the term bread or dough to describe money came from the fact that bread is one of the most basic forms of food:
“‘Give us this day, our daily bread,’ from the Lord’s prayer, for instance, could be taken literally or figuratively. The term breadwinner, used commonly from the 1940s onwards, took this idea and ran with it. The term bread was directly tied with someone who earned money. From there, it’s easy to see how bread, and subsequently dough, came into common usage.”
Additionally, in a nod to simpler mobster times, The Local Italy reported in 2016 that in the northern neighborhoods of Naples, citizens have been forced to buy their products from bakeries controlled by the Camorra mafia—or else face the consequences. “So claim Italian police who on Monday said they arrested 24 people suspected of belonging to a mafia group which has controlled the market for bread in the city for years,” they reported.
C.R.E.A.M.: This is perhaps best known as the title of a song by New York hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan, from their 1993 studio album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The acronym stands for “cash rules everything around me,” and is an ode to all things dairy that have been used to describe cash. According to the Oxford Dictionary Blog, there’s a theory kicking around that this, uh, cheesy association derives from “government cheese”—a U.S. welfare benefit afforded to food stamp recipients during the latter half of the 20th century.
“By the 1980s, the compound ‘government cheese’ had come to mean any state handout, money included, and as such, might have been abbreviated to cheese. As tempting (and tidy) as this sounds, cheese significantly predates government cheese, so I’m not convinced,” writes Matt Kohl, a language technologist at Oxford University Press. Still, per Kohl’s blog post, rappers from the Notorious B.I.G. to Odd Future have adopted using various forms of pasteurized dairy to describe money:
“Touch my cheddar, feel my Beretta from the Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Warning.’ But I’ve also heard rappers referring to their feta, as in: We talk about money, cash, feta (Odd Future, ‘Money Talk’). Even gouda’s gotten some run: If it ain’t about no gouda, partner, you can vanish (E-40, in Snoop Dogg’s ‘Candy (Drippin’ like Water)’),” reports Kohl.
Moola: In 2006, the Times of India reported that the word moolah is a Fijian word meaning “money,” which may be an explanation for the origin of this particular term. According to a Huffington Post article from 2014, the word “moola” was first used as slang for money in 1939, though they too admit the origin is unclear.
Skim: Probably not milk related—though the coincidence is a funny one—the term “skim” is a reference to tax-free gambling profits, as in, the money taken that isn’t reported to the IRS, according to a Mobspeak Glossary. In fact, the Chicago Outfit—a part of the American mafia that was infamously led by Al Capone—controlled casinos in Las Vegas and “skimmed” millions of dollars over the course of several decades.
In 1986, the L.A. Times reported that Chicago Mafia boss Joseph J. Aiuppa and four other alleged mobsters were convicted by a federal jury in Kansas City of skimming profits while secretly controlling the Stardust and Fremont casinos in Las Vegas. “The case involves a major scandal in America’s gambling capital, where state authorities have never brought a major criminal case based on skimming and hidden ownership,” the paper reported.
Scratch: According to the same HuffPo article, the term “scratch” has been used as a noun since 1586, but again, the origins of when it began to be used a nickname for money is unclear. The Word Detective also admits that while “scratch” has been used as a slang term for money since the early 20th century, its origin is something of a mystery. The closest clue to an actual year in which “scratch” was first used as slang for money is brought to you by the Online Etymology dictionary: “American English slang sense of ‘money’ is from 1914, of uncertain signification.”
I guess we’ll keep scratching our heads.