For to pony up, etymonline.com says

1824, in pony up "to pay," said to be from slang use of L. legem pone to mean "money" (first recorded 16c.), because this was the title of the Psalm for March 25, a Quarter Day and the first payday of the year (the Psalm's first line is Legem pone michi domine viam iustificacionum "Teach me, O Lord, the ways of thy statutes").

(which in itself is one awesome etymology if true)

For the more rare, although in use everywhere from Huckleberry Finn to modern San Francisco Chronicle, to pungle (up), Merriam-Webster says,

"Pungle" is from the Spanish word "pongale," meaning "put it down," which itself is from "poner," meaning "to put" or "to place," or more specifically "to contribute money." The earliest uses of "pungle" are from the 1850s

But does that Spanish poner as in "to contribute money" come from the same slang Latin pone?

  • Thankyou for introducing me to one new word and two lovely etymologies that I didn’t know before! I’m not quite sure how on-topic this question is, but it’s much too nice a one not to give it the benefit of the doubt.
    – PLL
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 18:38
  • 5
    This seems like a great false origin for the term pwned.
    – MrHen
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 18:43
  • Does "pwned" come from the idea of "pawning" an item for money?
    – compman
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 19:44
  • @compman No, it's an ‘Internet word’ that derives from mistypings of owned (o and p being right next to each other on a keyboard), as in “You've been owned”. Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 7:31

5 Answers 5


[Edited: The Oxford English Dictionary says that to pony up simply comes from pony, so Colin informed us. That means Etymonline's etymology is highly controversial. Edited again: The noun pony has been used to mean "£25" since at least 1797, according to the OED. To pony up has been used to mean "to pay up" at least since 1824 in American slang, says the same dictionary. Is there a connection between English and American slang?]

Assuming that Etymonline is correct, which is now doubtful, the answer would be: yes, these expressions share the same root, which is Latin ponere, from the Proto-Indo-European root/reflexes *apo-, po, ap-u, pu, "(away) from, off, out of".

However, because to pony up apparently came from the first verse of the Psalm that happened to be sung on a certain pay day, the link in meaning was severed there: in the Psalm, the word pone is used in the sense "provide me with / explain to me the law by which I may lead a good life", i.e. it is an abstract word, not at all connected with paying money in that context. If the first line had been O Domine, viam iustificationem michi pone legem, or something else, the slang term might have been "Yo, dude, o domine me now, or I'll take your wife". I have actually no idea how this slang was used in the 19th century, but you get what I mean.

Even so, it is possible that the use of legem pone to indicate paying money would have died long ago, had not the association been felt between "putting down money" on one hand and ponere, "to put down" in standard Latin, on the other. That would be very hard to prove or disprove; I have no idea.

  • I love the image if the 19th century thug using Latin in threatening manner.
    – Cubbi
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 20:24

I have always heard, and thought of, "Pony up" in an (old) American Western context. I'm thinking poker games and six-shooters. This would suggest that yes, it did come from the Latin by way of Spanish, Hombre.



“Legem pone mihi…” in the psalm translates idiomatically to “Teach me…”, or more literally to “Set a law for me…”; the word pone there is the imperative singular of Latin ponere, ‘to set, to place’.

On the other hand, Spanish poner is a direct descendent of ponere, retaining a very similar range of meanings. (Source: Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy.)


The OED does not mention the "legem pone" origin, and just says the verb derives from the ordinary noun "pony".

Most of the references to "legem pone" story are from etymonline, which says "said to be" without any references. But Word wizard considered the question in 2004, and gives that origin from Chapmans' dictionary of American Slang. But unless Chapman has a solid documentary trail for that, I would treat it very sceptically.

In short, I would be very very dubious of the "pone legem" origin.

  • Oh, dear. I suppose the OED should be considered more reliable... I'll add a disclaimer to my answer, if you don't mind. I would have checked the etymology in the OED but I don't have it here. Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 13:08
  • Although, the OED doesn't explain how "pony up" came to be used in the way it is, which is disappointing.
    – Marcin
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 13:47

I did some searching in Google books, and discovered the expression "post the pony" defined as "to lay down the money" in The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, (London, 1823). It is used several times in google books, and it does seem to mean to lay down money, particularly in anticipation of an upcoming bet or gambling event.

From Crockford's, or Life in the West (1828):

He went round that evening to all the sporting public houses westward, and announced with all the swagger and bluster peculiar to the "heroes of the fist," that he was open to fight any man for two or five hundred sovereigns, and "post the pony."

Pony up could easily have been derived from this. If it was, the derivation from pungle doesn't look promising.

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