Learn English – “Money quote”: Phrase Origin, metaphors involved


My partner Kate asked me a question today that I could guess about, but not answer. It's a Phrase Origin search, which I'm pretty bad at (because I don't really care when a phrase originated; I'm much more interested in the metaphors it's involved with). So I decided to post it here for her.

She frequently encounters the phrase money quote on her favorite blog, and was unfamiliar with it. She'd like to know where and when it came from, and I'd be interested in any origin stories.

I am familiar with it, as it happens, and I'm pretty sure I've seen it for years if not decades, but it's probably been on the usage upswing for a while because of the penchant for labelling money quotes as such in blogs.

So, does anybody know?

Best Answer

William Safire New York Times, "On Language", March 13, 2005 traces first usage to a 1984 Biography of Barbara Hutton (evidently Poor little rich girl: the life and legend of Barbara Hutton by Heymann):

''delighted but not surprised by the enthusiastic 'money quotes' in early reviews.''

Although since the author puts it in quotes, the sense must have been in some use in 1984 already.

He traces this particular adjectival sense of 'money' back to 1890, from 'money players' through 'money position' to, yes, the 'money shot' in both pornographic and photographic senses.

I will let you use your own judgment on Safire's own reliability.


I took a few minutes to search through various corpora at http://corpus.byu.edu/ and came up pretty empty. COHA had nothing, BNC had nothing. The Time Magazine Corpus had its earliest use in 1990.

Their interface to Google Books found a valid reference in 1986 in Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll.

So far it looks like Safire may be right (!) and 1984 is about the right time period for first use. Seems kind of late to me, but intuitions about phrase origins are often wrong.