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"He's into me for fifty quid" means "He owes me fifty pounds". It's common enough in the UK, but I'm fairly sure I've heard it in American movies too (bucks or grand there, not quid, obviously), so I don't think it's particularly a UK expression.

But since I just had reason to say it, I got to wondering "Why 'into'?", and realised it's a bit odd. Is it just short for "in debt to"? When I say it, I feel like "into" is one word, and a quick Google shows that's how people write it, but if you just miss out the word "debt" you'd still have two words left.

Anyone know the origin/first use?

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FWIW I had to read the question to know the meaning. British, but obviously not moving in the appropriate circles to hear this phrase. –  slim Jan 20 '12 at 10:39
    
@slim: It has a London/Cockney "feel" to me, but in my "mind's ear" I imagine the amount being [so many "grand"], and "grand" feels American, so I really don't even know where it got started, let alone when or why. –  FumbleFingers Jan 20 '12 at 10:48
    
I can personally attest to use of "into" or "in to" in Texas with the identical meaning, so this is not purely a Britishism. –  MετάEd Jan 20 '12 at 17:48
    
"In to" means "in debt to" and may simply be a shortening of the latter. But like many slang terms it may be impossible to identify the origin, just early uses. –  MετάEd Jan 20 '12 at 17:51
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Partridge

Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2002) says:

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into (a person) for (a sum of money), be. To owe a person so-much, to have let him down for a stated amount: Can, coll.: late C. 19-20. John Bearnes, Gateway, 1932, He's into me for ninety dollars, and I can't get a cent out of him.'

Where Can coll. is Canadian colloquial. The 2007 edition more simply says:

into preposition 1 in debt to, US, 1893


"... into me for ..."

Diving into Google Books, here's a possible 1902 from the American Ainslee's Magazine, Volume 10, Issues 1-6:

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"Old man," confided Bill, after explaining the situation, "I need just a dollar and ten cents. Let me have it, like a good fellow." "But, Bill," replied Reece, hesitatingly, "you're into me for fifty dollars already."

And a definite 1903 from Arthur Morris Binstead's Pitcher in Paradise: Some Random Reminiscences, Sporting and Otherwise, published in London:

Two unplaced's an' one second, an' damme, she was into me for thirty-eight quid ! Stupid ? Aye, laad, even the bloomin' clerk rounded on me !

Here's a possible 1890 in Puck magazine which may be using a with a pun on the phrase:

"You 've got into me for all I 'm worth," remarked the Stocking to the Jumping-Jack. "All the same, I'm in a hole," replied the Jumping-Jack. And when Santa Claus heard them talking in that way, he broke the Jumping-Jack and took the ...

Walked and dribbled

Here's an interesting one from a possibly 1903 Pearson's Magazine:

enter image description here

He has dribbled into me for a thousand if he's had a cent, and now he must pay back by taking a chance.

Dribbling can also be found in the possibly 1917 Norsk-Engelsk Ordbog:

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summer little sums ; cont driblets, petty sums. Cold has dribbled into me for a thousand ;

And finally, these two have walked into me for a [sum], which could be part of the same phrase.

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Interesting Partridge says to have let him down. I was going to say in the question I don't usually hear it in respect of "routinely-arranged" borrowing (from a bank, say). Usually it's some context where you had to bail someone out unexpectedly, or they did something causing you a financial loss that they've acknowledged, but they're not in a position to make recompense right now. Does that "Can. coll" mean "Canadian"? –  FumbleFingers Jan 20 '12 at 11:00
    
I can't see the abbreviations in that 2002 book, but another 1973 Partridge has the same definition but with Canadian coll.. A 2007 Partridge says: into preposition 1 in debt to, US, 1893 –  Hugo Jan 20 '12 at 13:00
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Those two at the end are much older than the rest, so I'm more than prepared to believe they're at least part of why the operative word today is *into. Does it for me, ty! –  FumbleFingers Jan 20 '12 at 17:43
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‘Chambers Slang Dictionary’ has two entries for into. The first gives ‘owing money to’, but also ‘having taken payment for a job’. It dates it to the late nineteenth century with a US origin.

It can, of course, also have the more or less opposite meaning when we speak of someone coming into some money.

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