Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What does this mean? I hear it often, but not sure what its meaning is. I think it means to believe what they are saying without proof.

share|improve this question
    
It's more like believing what they say without needing proof. –  Marthaª Apr 12 '11 at 21:52
3  
Isn't "something" used more frequently here than "someone"? –  Jürgen A. Erhard Apr 13 '11 at 0:10

7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The opposite of "taking at face value" is to look for a hidden meaning or ulterior motives. Are they lying? Is this a trick? "Face value" means that there is nothing more than meets the eye and digging deeper isn't likely to reveal anything interesting.

share|improve this answer

To take something at face value means to believe what is being said without looking for deeper meanings or hidden agendas.

share|improve this answer

The derivation of "face value" in this sense most likely has to do with the phrase as used in talking about currency: the value of a coin or bill is directly apparent from the numbers printed on it.

So it means taking the meaning of someone's speech or actions directly. (w/o looking for hidden meanings as the other answerers have said)

share|improve this answer
    
I wouldn't be surprised if this phrase had its origins in Ancient Greece. –  Sam Apr 13 '11 at 0:17
    
I believe that the complete answer is a combination of the one from @mrhen and this one. –  TecBrat Aug 28 '12 at 1:14

Is it maybe related to playing cards which have backs and faces?

I'm not a native speaker, so it is just a wild guess

share|improve this answer

Well, I couldn't take this question at face value and had to dig deeper (inspired by @sibbaldiopsis' answer).

There were two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Mandeville vs. Welch, 1820, and Lines vs. Sminth, 1851 that spoke of promissory notes needing to have the words "value received" written upon their faces. Could be some connection here.

The first instance of the exact phrase I could find in print was from Mason's Coin and Stamp Collectors' Magazine, 1870, referring specifically to the face value printed on postage stamps (in contrast to the value of the stamp to a collector).

http://books.google.com/books?id=ZtwEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA66&img=1&zoom=3&hl=en&sig=ACfU3U1-CFzeLCnGPwLguqOfxdqIrshATw&ci=136%2C895%2C766%2C134&edge=0

The first instance of the term used for money I found was from Folsom's Logical Bookkeeping, 1873:

Currency too—the bank-note and greenback—has its face-value, which is its printed amount .

The first figurative use of the phrase I found, the most common way it is used today, was from O. F. Cook's 1891, Papers on Myriopoda:

http://books.google.com/books?id=3TdDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA60&img=1&zoom=3&hl=en&sig=ACfU3U1wM3F9A64_aKJVo-Xx5d4VDcCPFQ&ci=117%2C80%2C850%2C182&edge=0

share|improve this answer

To take something at face value is the believe that what the person is saying is truth and rather than looking for the hidden meaning it's not understanding the bigger picture or motive behind what the person is actually saying.

share|improve this answer

I agree with Sibbaldiopsis above. My guess is that it goes back to Greek or Roman times. The rulers wanted to establish "fiat" currency rather than currency based on the commodity value of gold or silver. The ruler, whose face, a symbol of his authority, was on the coin, simply declared the value of the currency and expected merchants and consumers to trade with it at that value. In this way, debased currency could enable the ruler to increase the money supply without being tied to the intrinsic value of metals.

The currency we use today is "fiat" currency.

share|improve this answer

protected by tchrist Aug 13 at 19:52

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.