2

The idiom "throwing good money after bad" refers to spending more money on something problematic that one has already spent money on, in the (presumably futile) hopes of fixing it or recouping one's original investment.

My question is as to the etymology of this idiom; presumably the "bad" at the end of the phrase means "bad money". Why would the original money spent be considered "bad money"? Surely it's what was done with the money that was bad, not the money itself. And why would the new money being spend be "good"? If the original money is "bad" by virtue of the fact that what it was spent on was bad, then wouldn't this new money be "bad" by the same token?

  • 4
    I've always thought that what made the money ‘bad’ was the fact that you don't have it anymore—it's been wasted and has gone. The money you're now throwing at the problem is still yours (for the time being), so it's still ‘good’. This is only my own instinctive understanding of the idiom; it's probably not etymologically sound. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 24 '14 at 10:10
  • That's utterly wrong, Janus. This is what it means: "The idiom "throwing good money after bad" refers to spending more money on something problematic that one has already spent money on, in the (presumably futile) hopes of fixing it or recouping one's original investment" It is extremely well established. Your interpretation is utterly incorrect. – Fattie Jul 24 '14 at 11:52
  • 1
    @Joe: I'd say you're both right. The initial expenditure was bad because it failed to achieve the intended result; the extra expense involves money which could be put to good use in other ways (with more prospect of success). – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '14 at 13:11
  • 1
    @Joe I know what the saying means, I wasn't disputing that. I was describing my own intuitive understanding of what it is that makes the money already spent bad: the already-spent money is gone and all for nothing. That makes it bad. The money you're (about to be) spending now still has the possibility to be of actual use, so it's still good—but you're (contemplating) throwing it in the same direction as the money you already know turned out to be spent fruitlessly, thus risking making ‘bad’ money out of this new wad of cash, too. (Basically the same as Sven Yargs’ below.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 15 '15 at 0:35
1

It appears that the original phrase was to "send good money after bad," rather than to "spend." The hope of recovering a bad debt by loaning more money to the debtor would fit the expression well, as would the vain hope of spending money on an old car or house to recover its value. "Sending money" to recover lost money would easily morph into "spending money" with much the same meaning. The bad, as some have said here, is lost. The good is in hand and ought not be wasted.

"Giovanni Torriano wrote and published a number of books on proverbs, including “New and Easie Directions for Attaining the Thuscan Italian Tongue” in 1639, “The Most Significant Select Italian Proverbs” in 1642, “A dictionary Italian and English, formerly compiled by John Florio, now diligently revised” in 1659, and “Piazza universale di proverbi italiani: Or A Common Place Of Italian Proverbes and Proverbial Phrases” in 1666, among other tomes. However, it was in his book “Italian Proverbial Phrases” published in 1662 that he wrote: The English say, To send good Mony after bad, to lose the Substance, for the Shaddow."

https://idiomation.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/good-money-after-bad/

1

The two earliest occurrences of the phrase to appear in a Google Books search, are from the 1740s, and both f them refer explicitly to "throwing away good money after bad." From Colley Cibber, An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber (1740):

Upon a Run of good Audiences, he [a stage "Menager"] was more frighted to be thought a Gainer, which might make him accountable to others, than he was dejected with bad Houses, which a worst, he knew would make others accountable to him : And as, upon a moderate Computation, it cannot be suppos'd, that the contested Accounts of a twenty Years Wear, an Tear, in a Play-house, could be fairly adjusted by a Master in Chancery, under four-score Years more, it will be no Surprize, that by the Neglect, or rather the Discretion of other Proprietors, in not throwing away good Money after bad, this Hero of a Menager, who alone supported the War, should in time so fortify himself by Delay, and so tire his Enemies, that he became sole Monarch of his Theatrical Empire, and left the quiet Possession of it, to his Successors.

And from Publicus, "A Letter from a Freeholder to a Member of Parliament," in The Gentleman's Magazine (1748):

Amongst the great number of persons that have, by several acts, been discharged, I never could recover any part of the debt they ow'd me, nor have I ever heard of any other person that has received any part of his debt ; but, on the contrary, the debtors have either spent, or collusively and fraudulently convey'd away their estates and effects ; so that the creditors have been left without redress or satisfaction, to repent their throwing away good money after bad, and been forced patiently to suffer the insults of the debtors after discharged.

The notion here explicitly involves discarding "good money" (money still in one's possession, and therefore still capable of being put to worthwhile use) after having, in effect, discarded money that is now "bad" (no longer in one's possession, and therefore—if nothing of value came of it—wasted).

As FumbleFingers notes in a comment added to Josh61's answer, the first instance in Google Books search results of the more common modern wording "throw[ing] good money after bad" occurs in The London Chronicle for the Year 1763 (1763) [snippet window does not show the cited wording]:

He does not care to throw good money after bad, as the saying is ...


Update (June 12, 2019)

I just came across a somewhat earlier instance of the expression than Colley Cibber's from 1740. It appears in John Stevens, A New Dictionary, Spanish and English, and English and Spanish (1726) in an entry explaining the meaning of the Spanish phrase "echar un viróte tras ótro":

Echar un viróte tras ótro, to send one shaft [that is, arrow] after another. When one servant is sent to fetch another, and both stay ; Or when a man throws away good money after bad.

Stevens presents the phrase as if it were as familiar to him as the colloquial "send one shaft after another" (which he also uses), suggesting that the expression may have been well established in at least one part of England by 1726.

Also fairly early is this excerpt from a letter from Mr. Partridge to Mr. Popple, dated November 10, 1736, in Calendar of State Papers Colonial Series, America and West Indies, 1735–1736 (1913):

Thou wilt see it is a claim for a loss and damage sustain'd allmost 4 years since by the subjects of the French king at Martinico for wch. to this day we have never been able to gett the least satisfaction ; we trusting in ye justice of the French Court and rightiousness of our cause well hoped for success but in ye end to our mortification found ourselves miserably deceiveed and that we only threw away good money after bad etc.

Both of these instances use "throw away good money after bad" in a very modern-sounding way, it seems to me.

0

I think bad refers to the (risky) reason why you are throwing (investing) money which is likely to make you lose it.

Don't throw good money after bad:

  • To spend more and more money on something that will never be successful Investors in the project began to pull out as they realised they were simply throwing good money after bad.

  • The idiom to throw good money after bad refers to a situation in which someone appears to be wasting money on a losing proposition. Many languages have some version of this idiom, reflecting the fact that wasted money is a universal problem around the world. As a general rule, people use this term as a form of criticism, suggesting that someone's decision to keep spending money is ill-advised.

    • In a classic example of a case in which someone might throw good money after bad, a company might invest in a major software upgrade, and learn that the software didn't meet its needs. To resolve the situation, the company would continue spending money on the software in an attempt to upgrade it and make it functional. Critics might argue that this money is wasted, and it would be better to start all over again with a fresh software system.

Word Origin:

  • It was first recorded as salary will be no object in a 1782 newspaper advertisement for someone seeking a job. Both money and expense were so described by the mid-1800s.

Source:http://blog.suss-argentina.com.ar/?p=1470.

  • Yes – the Biblical warning refers to the misuse of money, not the money itself: The love of money is the / one root of all evil. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 24 '14 at 10:46
  • 1
    The OCR leaves something to be desired, but this from 1763 considerably predates your 1782 citation: He does n-H care to throw good money after bad, as ths saving is. Obviously that should be as the saying is, indicating that the expression was well-known at the time. – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '14 at 13:15
  • @FumbleFingers - nice find. No surprise if it existed even earlier. :)) – user66974 Jul 24 '14 at 13:27
  • In A. de La Motraye's Travels through Europe, Asia, and into parts of Africa ... (1723) a discussion of funding an alchemist to buy more supplies to create gold is described: 'twas throwing good Money after bad, to supply him with any. – bib Jul 24 '14 at 17:58
0

This is best experienced in banking. A banker is one who throw good money (fresh loan) after bad money (non-performing loan) with fond hope that he will assist the borrower with the good money and recover the bad money too.

  • Hello balu. This may well be true, but doesn't explicitly mention the origin of the expression. In fact, from what bib and FumbleFingers have found, it doesn't come close. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 5 '15 at 11:35

protected by Community Jun 12 at 2:45

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

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.