Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Dollars To Dumplings

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 6, 2013

Just as with the expression dollars to doughnuts, the expression dollars to dumplings means the same thing: whatever you’re betting on is a safe bet.

Even though it’s not quite as popular as its cousin dollars to doughnuts, the expression hasn’t exactly fallen by the wayside either. In fact, in Greg Jarboe’s article of December 23, 2011 entitled, “From ‘Author Stats’ in Webmaster Tools to Newsknife’s Top Journalists,” and published in a number of reputable newspapers around the world, the expression made its presence known in this paragraph.

And if you want to tell your PR people something that probably they don’t know, then show them Newsknife’s list of top news sites by category. I’ll bet dollars-to-dumplings that they didn’t know the Washington Post was the top news site for health-related stories or that MSNBC.com was the top site for science-related stories.

On August 14, 1921 the Gazette Times of Pittsburg, PA, the popular column, “George Ade’s Modern Fables In Slang” shared an enchanting fable entitled, “The Night Watch and the Would Be Something Awful” where the second paragraph read thusly:

“Nothing doing at the Gate,” she would say, warningly. “It’s Dollars to Dumplings that the Girl Detective is peeking out to get a Line on my Conduct. She has her Ear to the Ground about four-thirds of the Time and if any one makes a Move, then Mother is Next. If Father takes a Drink from his Stock in the Locker at the Club and then starts Homeward on a fast Trolley, Mother knows all about it when he is still three Blocks from the House. What’s more, she is a knowing Bird and can’t be fooled by Cloves or those little Peppermite Choo-Choos. The only time when Mother kisses Father is when she wants to catch him with the Goods. Look out! This is our corner.”

The moral of the story was: Any system is okay if it finally works out

The Sunday Vindicator of Youngstown (OH) published a news story entitled, “The Local Bout” on February 4, 1900 that made brief mention of a fighter by the name of Bryant. It was unclear whether he had any staying power although it was acknowledged that he had natural talent as a pugilist. The article shared this tidbit about the fighter’s past:

In days gone by he may have been a daisy one and done just what his manager claimed for him: knocked out Kid McParland in one round in 1896. At present it would be dollars to dumplings that McParland could reverse that decision.

The expression appears in a Harper’s Weekly Magazine advertisement in the February 28, 1889 edition of the Bristol Bucks County Gazette.

Idiomation was unable to located the saying published elsewhere in newspapers or in books, and even Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang states that they believe it hails from the late 19th century, although no exact year is given.

That being said, the fact that it appears in a Harper’s Weekly Magazine advertisement in early 1889, the expression was obviously understood by the general public in 1889. Since it would take one to two decades for an expression to reach this level of recognition with the general public, Idiomation pegs this expression to about 1875.

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