Monday, September 03, 2007

What's a sawbuck?

I've known since I was a kid that a sawbuck was a $10 bill and a fin was a $5. But I had no idea how limited that usage is or even how it came about. I had heard about the Spanish doubloon being the basis for the American dollar and also being divisible into 8 pieces - hence the term "pieces of 8" in pirates' tales and songs. Two of these pieces would be a quarter doubloon or quarter dollar. That's where we get 25 cents being 2 bits. Four bits was also heard in my childhood but I haven't heard it lately.

When Carolyn and I were dining at the Buckhorn Grill, there was a little sign on our table (and all the others as well) advertising sawbuck wine. I expected it to be $10 wine but in fact a glass costs $6.95 and a bottle $20. Seems to me that someone is a little unclear on the concept of sawbuck. Sort of like Jack in the Box's $6 hamburger which sells for more or less but never exactly $6.

Anyway, the best I could find on the Internet was that a sawbuck was either a rack for cutting rough wood, as illustrated above, or the Railroad Crossing sign. Both have a big Roman numeral X, signifying 10. A $10 bill would thus be related. It's a pretty tenuous connection.

For a $5 bill, the connection is finf, Yiddish for 5. Thus, to call a $5 bill a fin is just a minor corruption of yiddish.

There doesn't appear to be the same consistency for naming a $20 bill or higher but back when sawbuck and fin were common, $20 bills weren't.


  1. The Jack in the Box 6 dollar burger was supposed to sell for much less than that. It was supposed to the same quality you would get at a full service restaurant (Chili's, TGI Fridays, or Hoff's Hut for example) where it would cost $6 + gratutity, but at Jack in the Box it is only $4 (of course that doesn't include the fries while it might at the other places.)

  2. The Six Dollar Burger is actually at Carl's Jr. Who currently has six Six Dollar Burgers of varying construction and price.

  3. Why is everyone commenting about freak'n $6 burgers? Was the origin of this conversation not based on the definition of sawbuck?

  4. There's gotta be a math lesson in here somewhere. Not about the $6 burger.

  5. When did "finback" get shortened to "fin"? When I was a wee lad, we said finback and sawbuck.

  6. So if the jack burger is $4, why didn't they call it the 4 bitburger?