What does "$12 psychological term" mean? What does "$12" introduce into the phrase as a modifier to adjective? How should it be read? "Twelve dollar psychological", "twelve dollars...", "dozen dollars...", smth else...

Let me apologize in advance for using the $12 psychological term self-efficacy throughout the book. I will use the word a lot because it’s central to our research and there’s not another term that comes close enough to it. Another way of thinking about it in practical terms is simply as your belief in your competency to complete a particular behavioral goal. [Norcross, J. C. Changeology: 5 steps to realizing your goals and resolutions. N.Y., 2013. — Subsection "Self-efficacy and beyond".]

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    Same as the common idiom ten dollar word or sometimes five dollar word, meaning "overpriced", "pretentious", "fancy", "snobby" etc. I don't know if the extra two bucks are because the precise cost of these snobby words aren't fixed, and vary from speaker to speaker, or because this particular author wanted to communicate that he knew psychological terms are even more overpriced (i.e. draw more skepticism from the public, because psychology has a reputation as a blustery field).
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 25, 2016 at 14:18
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    I don't think there is standardized pricing for psych testing in the US, and if there would it would be a lot more than $12. I've personally never run across a $12 psych test. But, that's anecdotal. I could be wrong. Let's see how others answer your question -- someone may go into great detail on the origins and variations on "$X or N¢ words", and associated idioms ("Never use a ... where a ... will do", "the $64K question", and so on). Also, one of our highest-ranking members also has a medical and sociological background, maybe she will comment on the specific value $12.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 25, 2016 at 14:48
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    It's inflation. When I was kid, long pretentious words only cost 50 cents.
    – cobaltduck
    Mar 25, 2016 at 19:36
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    Closely related: Should I use 10 cent words or $2 words?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 25, 2016 at 20:27
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    (You'd read it aloud as "twelve dollar psychological term".)
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 25, 2016 at 21:53

1 Answer 1


There is a previous Stack Exchange question of "Value (in cents) of a term" from 2011.

Of interest, the phrase (five-cent) word began during the time of the telegraph, explaining in reality that a longer word costs more money. The idiom thus implies a flowery term where something more mundane would do.

The speaker here appears to be using the idiom in his own way, perhaps just pulling a number out of his behind for no reason.

I might know someone with an advanced psychology background who has no idea over the significance of the $12. But perhaps it makes some form of ironic or neurotic sense to the speaker.

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