5

The expression "If money were no object" is in fairly wide use. I've always interpreted the word "object" as "material" (so, "if money were immaterial") or "objection" (so, "if [lack of] money were no objection"). In a recent newspaper article, a city auditor was quoted as saying "If money were no object, ... but of course money is an object." This made me wonder what the underlying meaning of "object" is.

4

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/money-is-no-object

money is no object

Also, expense is no object. It doesn't matter how much it costs, as in Get the very best fur coat you can find—money is no object. In this expression no object means “something not taken into account or presenting no obstacle.” 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.

I would assume that "object" in this case means something tangible; something that occupies certain coordinates in space that nothing else can occupy at the same time; something to be considered when making plans. A close cousin would be "matter," with a similar collection of connotations. "No object" would therefore mean that one could proceed as if the matter, issue, or, well, object, did not exist at all. It's simply not there. So much so that there's nothing even to ignore (since something that can be ignored needs to exist in the first place).

  • 1
    Thanks. "Tangible" is the same as "material", while "obstacle" is much the same as "objection," so my interpretations seem to match Dictionary.com's, for what that's worth. – jetset Nov 22 '15 at 1:21
5

Current meaning of 'money is no object'

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) has the following relevant definitions for object:

object n (14c) ... 3 a : the goal or end of an effort or activity : PURPOSE, OBJECTIVE {their object is to investigate the matter thoroughly} b : a cause for attention or concern {money is no object}

Definition 3(b) seems to be the sense in which "money is no object" is used today, but the Eleventh Collegiate suggests that this meaning evolved from object in the sense of "objective." On the other hand, "cause for attention or concern" might reasonably be restated as "cause for objection."

Regarding the idiom "money is no object" itself, Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms (1998) has this entry:

Money (is) no object[:] something that you say which means it does not matter how much something costs because there is a lot of money available

Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, second edition (2013) has this:

money is no object Also, expense is no object. It doesn't matter how much it costs, as in Get the very best fur coat you can find—money is no object. In this expression no object means "something not taken into account or presenting no obstacle." 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.

Eric Partridge, Usage and Abusage (1957) takes on the entire family of "no object" phrases:

object, no. E.g., 'distance no object', and especially, 'price no object': catachrestic when 'no obstacle' or 'not an objection' is meant. The correct sense 'not a thing aimed at or considered important' has been vitiated by confusion with no objection. Its flagrant absurdity is seen in the undertaker's advertisement: 'Distance no object.'

Partridge seems to be arguing here that "no object" properly means "no major objective." I think it's fair to say that his understanding of the phrase is not one shared by most people who use it today.


Original meaning of "money is no object'

The earliest three Google Books matches for the phrase "money is no object" are from the late 1700s and very early 1800s.

From a speech by Sir Hercules Langryshe, in Parliamentary Register of the House of Commons of Ireland (April 7, 1791):

These twelve counties [that have a material interest in the carriage bounties] don't contain less than a million of people, and every one of those people has a share on this interest. If then you were to take the inland bounty of 60,000 l. and divide it equally amongst them, each person would receive exactly the sum of 14½d.—This shews you the absurdity of such common place charges.—This shews you that the money is no object, but the wise application of it. This sum of money, which, if divided, would only produce 14d½ to each individual, has been sufficient to erect and maintain throughout this country 250 great granaries and markets at the farmer's door ; and these are the great incitement and reward of his industry.

Second, from the summation of Mr. Justice Buller to the jury, in James O'Coigly, Otherwise Called James Quigley, Otherwise Called James John Fivey, [and others] for High Treason (1798):

There is this reason for supposing that he [John Binns, a co-defendant] might be employed principally, if not altogether, by Mr. O'Connor ; he undoubtedly is proved to have offered to deposit money to pay for this vessel, if any accident happened. Who was likely to find that money? It seems, by all the evidence, the whole party, except Mr. O'Connor, were beggars. Who was to find the money but Mr. O'Connor? and if he was going in a great hurry, supposing that Binns was employed by him only, Binns might say, as to the loss of this vessel, if she does cost O'Connor three hundred pounds, money is no object to him, and therefore I will agree for the vessel. That is one way of putting it, and it deserves your consideration.

And finally, Frederick Reynolds, Folly As It Flies: A Comedy (1802) includes the following exchange between Sir Herbert Melmoth and Dr. Infallible:

Sir Herbert. Yes, sir; I thank you for the offer of your friendly loan; but the arrival of my son makes it unnecessary.

Dr. Infallible. Very well, Sir Herbert—but money's no object to me, and if at any time you will condescend to be my banker—

It seems to me that Sir Hercules in his 1791 speech to the Irish Parliament, uses "money is no object" to mean something like "money is no crucial concern in and of itself." The prosecutor's use of the phrase in the 1798 treason trial, on the other hand, seems to me to make most sense as a way of saying that for Mr. O'Connor, money was not a sticking-point or obstacle, since he had it and could afford to lose it. The third instance, involving Dr. Infallible, could be read either way, I think.

My conclusion from these few examples is that the supposed proper understanding of the phrase "money is no object" went unobserved by actual users of the phrase from a very early date.


Were there any antecedents for the expression "money is no object"?

C. T. Onions, "'Distance No Object'," in Needed Words, issues 31–40 (1931[?]) offers a detailed analysis of the emergence of object (in the forms "no object" and "not an object") with the meaning "obstacle" or "major consideration." I will quote from it at length because it is a remarkably thorough account and because it is available on Google Books only by combining snippet views, which is a tedious process to replicate:

It is some six years ago that I first published a note on this common example of commercial jargon, in The Times Literary Supplement of February 5, 1925. I then brought forward some evidence for the history of the expression ["distance no object"] and endeavoured to show how it had arisen by a perversion of a formula common in advertisements about the beginning of the nineteenth century, in which the word object had its normal meaning of 'thing aimed at', 'aim'. The evidence produced was not, however, sufficient to convince readers of my thesis, many still believing that the use of object was quite simple and natural, while others persisted in the view that object was merely a substitute for objection.

...

The [new] evidence is largely derived from advertisements, and the first batch will consist of those in which the advertiser states directly what is his object or his principal object.

Board and Lodging. Wanted, a Gentleman and Lady, or a Single Gentleman or Lady, that wish to live in a genteel line for the summer season. None need apply but those whose characters will bear the strictest enquiry, as the chief object is to add to a social life.—World, 18 April 1788.

A Genteel young woman, who from repeated disappointments, wishes to recommend herself as Companion to a Lady or Ladies, and to render herself useful where she [may] meet with genteel treatment, that being her principal object.—Morning Herald, 13 June 1791.

...

Another class is that in which it is stated that so-and-so, usually emolument, is not an object, or a principal or material object, without the explicit comparison which characterizes the class that has just been illustrated.

She expects to be treated as a friend, as wages is not the object of this application.—Morning Post, 22 May 1778.

A Young Person desires ‘an eligible situation’, and says:

Wages will not be an object, provided she meets with agreeable treatment.—Morning Herald, 12 April 1790.

One who wishes to be housekeeper to a family states that:

As she has a trifling income, wages will not be esteemed an object.—World, 1 Jan. 1791.

‘A young person of respectable connections’ states bluntly:

Emolument not an object.—Morning Herald, 9 Jan. 1800.

...

Now it has been possible for many centuries to say indifferently ‘He is not fool’ and ‘He is no fool’. Sir Thomas More wrote: 'I take Moyses for no leder of ye children of Israel' ; and in the plural the use is earlier, for the later Wycliffite version of the Bible renders the Vulgate 'ipsi non sunt dii' by 'thei ben no godis'. There is, therefore, nothing to surprise us in the substitution of no object for not an object. Many examples could be given; the usual formula is Salary no object:

A Gentlewoman ... wishes to superintend the family of a single Gentleman or Lady ... and salary will be no object.—Morning Herald, 20 May 1782.

...

It is clear that, with the introduction of a negative, and particularly in not an object, no object, the first step was taken in the shift of meaning that has made it possible for object to be apprehended as ‘a matter of importance or consideration’, especially as an obstacle in the way of a transaction. And there is evidence of this twist of meaning at a very early date, as, for example, in the following :

Wanted, in Chatham-place or New Bridge- street, a roomy convenient House . . . Rent no object, if the house is agreeable.—Morning Herald, 4 Jan. 1800.

The meaning is not that the rent is not the object in view, but that the amount of the rent will not be taken into consideration by the advertiser, that it will not be regarded as an obstacle, that it will not matter. The extension of the idiom to money no object, expense no object, and further to distance no object, was easy and obvious.


Conclusions

From Onions's research it appears that instances of "not the [or an] object" or "no object" in advertisements antedates the earliest Google Books instance (1791) by a decade or more. The earliest relevant instances in advertisements are "wages is not the object of this application" (from 1778) and "salary will be no object" (from 1782).

Onions makes a strongly documented case for the idea that the word object in the construction "no object" evolved in the space of 30 or 40 years from meaning "primary purpose or objective" to meaning—in set phrases ranging from "money is no object" to "distance no object"—something close to "obstacle or source of objection."

  • Is this Overkill? – Lambie Jan 16 '17 at 23:38
-1

Object can mean goal or importance. "If money were no object" would therefore mean "if money were not the goal" or "if money were of no importance." Alternate synonymical expressions include if money "did not matter" or "were not a factor."

  • Answers should provide original content. Your answer does not add any new information that is not covered in the previous answers, which were posted almost two years ago. – vpn Aug 8 '17 at 0:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.