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My partner Kate asked me a question today that I could guess about, but not answer. It's a Phrase Origin search, which I'm pretty bad at (because I don't really care when a phrase originated; I'm much more interested in the metaphors it's involved with). So I decided to post it here for her.

She frequently encounters the phrase money quote on her favorite blog, and was unfamiliar with it. She'd like to know where and when it came from, and I'd be interested in any origin stories.

I am familiar with it, as it happens, and I'm pretty sure I've seen it for years if not decades, but it's probably been on the usage upswing for a while because of the penchant for labelling money quotes as such in blogs.

So, does anybody know?

  • 2
    I did a quick google book search for "money quote" (in quotes) with date range, and found few hits for the phrase, but one or two in the early eighties, and NONE prior to 1970. I did find one bald-faced assertion that it is a derivation of "money shot" which is a pornographic term. Color me dubious ( books.google.com/…) – horatio Jan 4 '12 at 22:51
  • @horatio: Colour me credulous then. I'm not convinced "money shot" necessarily even originated in the porn industry, and today it's certainly used far more widely (a scene in any movie that was disproportionately expensive to produce, that one picture a paparazzi photographer gets that will outsell all the others, etc.) But in any event it looks to be primarily like mass-media/journalism jargon. From my brief googling just now I'd say "money quote" is much the same, but also used by politicians largely in the context of seeking media attention. Akin to Br.Eng. soundbite, perhaps. – FumbleFingers Jan 5 '12 at 0:59
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    I always thought it came from money shot myself, but I am doubtful that the person I cited has any evidence. I certainly don't – horatio Jan 5 '12 at 15:01
  • I added some corpus search information below which may help find first use -- but as far as the 'metaphors involved' I'd be really afraid of getting into armchair psychology without any evidence. My own intuition tells me that it's a pretty transparent construction -- it's a "quote" (quotation) of high value. We may have to be content with a source and not an explanation. – Mark Beadles Jan 6 '12 at 19:29
  • Does this just use the common slang definition of money (of unusually high quality) urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=money – dcaswell Sep 7 '13 at 22:52
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William Safire New York Times, "On Language", March 13, 2005 traces first usage to a 1984 Biography of Barbara Hutton (evidently Poor little rich girl: the life and legend of Barbara Hutton by Heymann):

''delighted but not surprised by the enthusiastic 'money quotes' in early reviews.''

Although since the author puts it in quotes, the sense must have been in some use in 1984 already.

He traces this particular adjectival sense of 'money' back to 1890, from 'money players' through 'money position' to, yes, the 'money shot' in both pornographic and photographic senses.

I will let you use your own judgment on Safire's own reliability.

EDIT:

I took a few minutes to search through various corpora at http://corpus.byu.edu/ and came up pretty empty. COHA had nothing, BNC had nothing. The Time Magazine Corpus had its earliest use in 1990.

Their interface to Google Books found a valid reference in 1986 in Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll.

So far it looks like Safire may be right (!) and 1984 is about the right time period for first use. Seems kind of late to me, but intuitions about phrase origins are often wrong.

5

I find the assertion given in your comment easy to believe. The emergence of "money shot" into pop culture could well have inspired the coining of "money quote" by analogy. "Money shot", according to Google Ngram Viewer, has been rarely but consistently in print for a long time. But starting in the 1980's there is a surge in usage. Clearly coincident with that is the emergence of "money quote" with a much lower frequency. Common sense tells me that the more common term probably inspired the less common term (if they are connected at all).

  • I'd never heard the term before, so perhaps I shouldn't comment. But ending the date range at 1990 rather than 2008, there are only 9 instances of "money quote", of which 8 are obviously coincidental collocations. The other one (1986) says MONEY QUOTE OF THE MONTH "Money is of a prolific generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more." which I rather suspect is also not the specific usage OP is asking about. – FumbleFingers Jan 5 '12 at 0:44
1

Here's an interesting early instance of the expression, from Richard Corliss, "Movies: The B Movie Is Alive and Well... Thanks to Outrageous! and Citizens Band. Now for the Bad News," in New Times, volume 9, number 6 (1977) [combined snippets]:

Film critics are lazy creatures. They want to devote their column space to movies that will be seen, or at least talked about, by the largest possible number of their readers. They want to see films in comfortable, comforting surroundings: a plush screening room in the company of a few other movers and shakers, not a noisy movie house full of shovers and makers. They may even enjoy seeing some shards of their prose on a movie marquee, and find themselves sprinkling "money quotes" through an otherwise tepid review. And as the years pass they become more interested in what they're saying than what they're seeing; their profession is more important than what was once their obsession. (You'll notice I've cast this jeremiad in the third-person plural. Goodness knows I'm not guilty of any of these sins.)

The result: the movies you read about tend to be the ones most heavily prescreened and presold. You'll find millions of words knocking Exorcist II: The Heretic, but hardly a sentence praising—or knocking—a B-movie bijou like Special Delivery (Movies, NT, February 18, 1977). I sometimes think this benign neglect is a good thing.

The quotation that William Safire cites in his 2005 "On Language" column, as noted in Mark Beadles's answer, actually comes from a 1984 Time magazine review of C. David Heymann's Poor Little Rich Girl, not from the 1983 Barbara Hutton biography itself [combined snippets]:

Poor Little Rich Girl seemingly had everything going for it: a notorious beauty who died an impoverished recluse in 1979, a supporting cast if lovers that included Howard Hughes and James Dean, and a seasoned biographer, working from interviews with the heiress as well as her unpublished diaries. Random House was delighted but not surprised by the enthusiastic "money quotes" in early reviews. After all, the work had been chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate, Vanity Fair had excerpted a chapter, and the film rights had been sold for $100,000.

Richard Corliss was a film critic and editor at Time magazine for 35 years, starting in 1980, so he was working there when the review of Poor Little Rich Girl appeared, but I have no idea whether he had anything to do with that review. Corliss's 1977 review in New Times dates to his Film Comment days (1970–1980).

In any event, both the 1977 film review and the 1984 book review refer to "money quotes" in the sense of quotations that a marketing firm or publicist would highlight in advertisements, cover blurbs, or other promotional material to market the subject of the quotation. In short—and logically enough—a "money quote" seems in its earliest days to have referred specifically to a quotation extracted from its original context and used to sell the thing it talked about.

protected by MetaEd Oct 9 '18 at 19:47

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