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I have recently encountered the expression "money isn't money isn't money" twice. Though I can guess at what it implies, it still seems to me a bit convoluted.

One recent instance was by Chris Sacca at the New York Times/Dealbook Conference:

The last thing I'd say is money isn't money isn't money. I'll take Bill Gurley's investment at a fifty percent discount to somebody else's investment because I know the impact he's going to have in one of our companies. And I think there will be this kind of quality factor writing stuff out where the best investors add—they materially impact the outcomes for these companies, and it's not going to happen from dentists and lawyers dropping a few coins into all these different pockets. It's going to happen from professionals continuing to help.

I can't remember the context of the other instance. And intensive googling returned just one other occurrence, on a forum.

What is the meaning, origin, relevance, and appropriateness of this expression?

  • The example illustrates it. He's saying even if the dollar amount is equal, there is greater value is getting that money from a professional investor than from amateurs. – sumelic Nov 7 '15 at 4:32
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    I'm guessing it's a spin on "a rose is a rose is a rose . . . ." – user139454 Nov 7 '15 at 4:52
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    It's not an idiom -- it means what it means. In this case money (invested in the speaker's company) from the average investor is not the same as money from this particular investor because this investor brings a lot of "added value" (in terms of his management skills, presumably) with the money he invests. – Hot Licks Nov 7 '15 at 5:30
  • @user139454: Gertrude Stein does a "rose is a rose is a rose"–style riff on money, too. The Prologue to The Mother of Us All (1945–1946) begins "Pity the poor persecutor./Why,/If money is money isn't money money./Why,/Pity the poor persecutor,/Why,/Is money money or isn't money money./Why./ ... /Because the persecutor gets persecuted/Because is money money or isn't money money/That's why,/ ..." – Sven Yargs Nov 7 '15 at 17:49
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In the video clip, the intended meaning is that Not all money is the same or Not all money is equal, as the following sentences indicate. He would prefer to have the investment of Bill Gurley over crowdfunding because Bill Gurley's involvement makes his investment more valuable, perhaps even twice as much.

This also seems to be the meaning behind the forum usage, where the initial question is asking why there are different sources of funding and who decides how to divide that funding up. One later reply observes

… remember that money isn't money isn't money — Congress appropriates funds for various purposes with various restrictions, and the restrictions only increase as the money flows downhill. This is how we get disconnects, e.g., plenty of money for new printers (equipment), but no money for printer ink (consumables).

That is, just because $1 million is available from one budget and $1 million is available from a different budget does not mean that the money is interchangeable; they are earmarked for different purposes, have different spending restrictions, and so on.

This isn't a set phrase, and I wouldn't consider it a snowclone, nor do I think it is related directly to a rose is a rose is a rose, nor is it an example of antanaclasis here. I suggest it is simply a repetition for rhetorical effect of definition by redefinition, which is not uncommon:

Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds,

Don't go near the water / 'Cause the water isn't water anymore

(I did turn up one result for water isn't water isn't water (2012), which indicates the same sense: not all water is equivalent).

A substantially more clichéd way to express this idea would be not all money is created equal, being a snowclone of the negation of Thomas Jefferson axiom cum Abraham Lincoln dictum that all men are created equal. There is no shortage of unimaginative headline writing in that regard: not all antenna alignment tools are created equal; not all "I'm deleting my account!!!" announcements are created equal; not all instances of recidivism are created equal, etc.

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Your link goes to a Q&A session with a panel about venture capital -- speculative money spent on start-up companies in the hope that the investors will end up with a piece of what will become a very successful company. In particular, the question is about crowd funding, raising capital by the pooled subscription of many small investors. Chris Sacca is saying that the money raised for these speculative ventures doesn't carry equal weight. The money contributed by professional investors is more important to start-ups, and these professionals are more likely to find the eventually-successful start-ups.

Sacca mentions Bill Gurley as one of the professionals he's talking abouit. Wikipedia reports that

Bill Gurley is a general partner at Benchmark, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm in Menlo Park, California. He is listed consistently on the Forbes Midas List and is considered one of “technology’s top dealmakers."

As opposed to "dentists and lawyers," who are traditionally seen as having extra money to invest but no investment savvy.

The phrasing is similar to the famous first line from Gertrude Stein's poem Sacred Emily:

Rose is a rose is a rose

This is most often misquoted by adding the indefinite article to the beginning. It's meaning is often taken to mean that a thing is after all just the thing itself.1 Sacca has kept the phrasing but negated the meaning, saying that equal sums are not equal because the source of the money matters.


1. This isn't what the author said she meant. I find that her explanation isn't an explanation isn't an explanation, but you can follow the link above to see for yourself.

  • I don't think "crowd sourcing" has something to do with "raising capital". Are you listing it as one of the topics in the Q&A session? – user140086 Nov 7 '15 at 4:57
  • Crowd sourcing is soliciting resources, possibly including money, from a large group of people. But the solicitation isn't restricted to investment capital, and the actual term used in the interview is the more accurate crowd funding. I've changed it. – deadrat Nov 7 '15 at 5:07
  • Yes, Crowd funding seems more appropriate. Upvote. – user140086 Nov 7 '15 at 5:14

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