I've often been wondering where the phrase in the title comes from - I always picture it as coming from an early television era game show, but more likely it has to do with pricing of telegrams or news paper advertisements?

In particular, I'd like to know if there is a more subtle meaning to the numerical value being used; at least, moreso than "higher value means more sophisticated."

From memory, I've seen it used (at least) with 0.10$, 2$, 3$, 4$, 5$ and 10$. Which values are commonly used to indicate what? Would a native speaker intuitively spot someone who's just making up numbers (e.g. "8$ word")?

I've searched ELU and found a few usages, but no discussion about it:

Should I use 10 cent words or $2 words?

Is "autodidact" too obscure to use in a résumé?

Numbers and units

Are these phrases too posh-sounding for conversational English?

  • Just as a point, for U.S. currency, the $ symbol comes before the number ($2, $3, $10, etc) even though it's read as 'two dollars'. As a native Am.E. speaker, I don't often run across the phrase so don't have much experience to draw on other than 'cheaper' words are simpler/easier to understand. – Doc Jan 17 '14 at 19:27
  • To further the point of the currency symbol, it should also be noted that the ¢ (cents) comes after the number where appropriate: 25¢. You would not ever use both (don't write $3.25¢). – Doc Jan 17 '14 at 19:36
  • @FumbleFingers: Inflation really spares nothing, it seems... I can only recall hearing it being used in the dollar variant, so I didn't even search for cents, which would most likely have lead me to the question you link to. – Axel Jan 17 '14 at 19:39
  • @Doc: Thanks for the tip. I was dimly aware of this custom but the incorrect order just comes naturally when one's not paying attention and using "$" as shorthand (I didn't want to type "dollar" that often) – Axel Jan 17 '14 at 19:40
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    @Axel: Being a Brit, I'm not likely to use any variants myself. But I do recall our very own tchrist using $64 words not long ago (which was easy for me to find with a Google site search). And I recall thinking at the time "I haven't heard that version before! He must be influenced by the $64 thousand dollar question". – FumbleFingers Jan 17 '14 at 21:57