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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?

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I did a quick google book search for "money quote" (in quotes) with date range, and found few hits for the phrase, but one or two in the early eighties, and NONE prior to 1970. I did find one bald-faced assertion that it is a derivation of "money shot" which is a pornographic term. Color me dubious ( books.google.com/…) – horatio Jan 4 '12 at 22:51
@horatio: Colour me credulous then. I'm not convinced "money shot" necessarily even originated in the porn industry, and today it's certainly used far more widely (a scene in any movie that was disproportionately expensive to produce, that one picture a paparazzi photographer gets that will outsell all the others, etc.) But in any event it looks to be primarily like mass-media/journalism jargon. From my brief googling just now I'd say "money quote" is much the same, but also used by politicians largely in the context of seeking media attention. Akin to Br.Eng. soundbite, perhaps. – FumbleFingers Jan 5 '12 at 0:59
I always thought it came from money shot myself, but I am doubtful that the person I cited has any evidence. I certainly don't – horatio Jan 5 '12 at 15:01
I added some corpus search information below which may help find first use -- but as far as the 'metaphors involved' I'd be really afraid of getting into armchair psychology without any evidence. My own intuition tells me that it's a pretty transparent construction -- it's a "quote" (quotation) of high value. We may have to be content with a source and not an explanation. – Mark Beadles Jan 6 '12 at 19:29
Does this just use the common slang definition of money (of unusually high quality) urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=money – dcaswell Sep 7 '13 at 22:52
up vote 7 down vote accepted

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.

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I find the assertion given in your comment easy to believe. The emergence of "money shot" into pop culture could well have inspired the coining of "money quote" by analogy. "Money shot", according to Google Ngram Viewer, has been rarely but consistently in print for a long time. But starting in the 1980's there is a surge in usage. Clearly coincident with that is the emergence of "money quote" with a much lower frequency. Common sense tells me that the more common term probably inspired the less common term (if they are connected at all).

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I'd never heard the term before, so perhaps I shouldn't comment. But ending the date range at 1990 rather than 2008, there are only 9 instances of "money quote", of which 8 are obviously coincidental collocations. The other one (1986) says MONEY QUOTE OF THE MONTH "Money is of a prolific generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more." which I rather suspect is also not the specific usage OP is asking about. – FumbleFingers Jan 5 '12 at 0:44

This article sheds some light on the topic


"...one NBC exec begins with a money quote -- one the press is sure to jump on."

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That provides an explanation of what a "money quote" is, but not its origin or the metaphors involved, which is what the question asks for specifically. – choster Feb 11 '14 at 16:28

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