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Old 06-09-2003, 02:57 PM
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Origin of the Word Moolah

I was reading William Safire's column On Language in this week's New York Times Magazine. He discusses the word 'moolah' but doesn't give a strong argument for the origin he cites (an article written by Damon Runyon in 1939).

I did some research, but I haven't found any strong arguments found for the various theories of origin that I came across. Most dictionaries (at least online dictionaries) list the origin of moolah (or moola) as unknown.

Here's what I have come up so far":

The quote that Safire is referring to -->

Quote:
He is very desoerate for a little moolahh.
--D. Runyon, _Collier's, June 17, 1939
The OED's first citation of moolah is from John O'Hara's play Pal Joey. The musical I believe opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on December 25, 1940, however I've seen a few references to the play being written in early 1939.

Another reference to moolah, from 1939:

Quote:
What about it, baby, is it my fault I forgot my wallet? I got plenty of mullah.
--C.R. Cooper, _In Scarlet_, 1939
Two other possible origins of the word come from other languages: Sanskrit and Bantu. I don't speak Sanskrit or Bantu so I can't confirm that these definitions are accurate.

The Sanskrit and Hindi word "mool", which means "root", "substance", "value", "worth."

The Bantu word mulambo, which means "tax revenues, wealth or money.'


Can anyone out there give me a definitive origin of this word?
Old 06-09-2003, 07:18 PM
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I'm having trouble picture Damon Runyan characters studying Sanskrit or Bantu.
Old 06-09-2003, 08:13 PM
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Quote:
I'm having trouble picture Damon Runyan characters studying Sanskrit or Bantu.
I go into Mindy's and there, who do I see but Harry the Horse, and what is he doing other than reading a book. I am most surprised, because, while it is known that the Horse has much to do with books, he is not much in the habit of reading them.

I say to him, "Hello, Harry. What book is that that you are reading?" I do not call him the Horse, because he does not like to be called the Horse, and I have a naturally agreeable temper, especially when I am speaking to one such as the Horse.

"I will have you know", says the Horse to me, "that I am reading a book on India. These Indians are very strange guys, in such the way that they think that if you are an alright guy that after you die you will come back to life a real swell with lots of moolah, which is their word for bucks, but if you are a rat and a squealer, you will come back a dumb animal or even some kind of insect. Now, I must ask you to leave me to my book, as you will cause me to lose my place, and a place, once lost, is not easy to find again."

At this point, I decide that I do not want to be the cause of the Horse losing his place, so I withdraw to think of what the Horse tells me of India and I wonder that people actually believe such a story.

I am thinking of this as I am walking out of Mindy's, and this thinking causes me to trip over a mangy cur that is waiting outside to beg for scraps. The cur of course then scrams, so as it will no longer be tripped over. There is only one thing that makes me wonder, though. Although I do not see the beast clearly, and it is certainly a trick of the light, I briefly seem to notice a resemblance to my dear departed Aunt Agnes.
Old 06-09-2003, 10:37 PM
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Quote:
Can anyone out there give me a definitive origin of this word?
No.
Old 06-10-2003, 01:15 AM
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I usually read his articles on Sunday, and this one made me think: "Hmmm, maybe a GQ thread is in order." Apparently it was.
Old 06-10-2003, 09:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by samclem
No.
So.....is that a definitive no?


Anyway...I was able to find a hindi dictionary, and the closest to "mool" that I came across was "mul" (long u). The dictionary listed about 20 different meanings for the word when used as a noun, including "capital, stock in trade."

I haven't had too much success locating a Bantu dictionary. Most of the ones on-line seem to have lost their web hosts.
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