RUNNING FOR THE MONEY
by Steven Steinbock
When I was a lad in high school, there was this girl I liked. Back then there were a lot of girls I liked. But this one was especially cute. One time when I was dropping her off at her apartment—or maybe I was picking her up, although it doesn’t matter—I happened to meet her mother.
The next day the girl told me, “My mom liked you. She said if you lost the mustache, you’d have a real run for the money.”
I wasn’t so much flattered as floored. The comment knocked me on my proverbial keister. Surprisingly, it didn’t motivate me to lose the mustache. Those whiskers were my license to buy beer (in a state where I was still four years away from being of legal age). Stupidly, the ability to buy beer as a seventeen year-old was too important. Besides, as nice-looking as the mother was, it was my friend I wanted to impress and not her mom.
The words, though, had enough impact on me that they lingered in my mind to this day. Yet I was always puzzled at the idiom. What did it mean that I had a run for the money? It apparently has something to do with competitions, and possibly on placing bets. The general meaning is that one who has a run for the money—or one who causes a run for the money—has a nearly equal chance against the front-runner.
The bottom line is that the idiom run for the money has a muddled history, and equally muddled definition. And while it might be used as a compliment, it is just as easily value-neutral. But I still smile when I recall that girl and what she told me her mother said.
As a fancier of language, the connections between two words of a common root rarely slip past me. Meditating on “equate” and “equator” transforms the globe into a mathematical wonder. “Linguini” and “linguistic” are a double treat for the tongue. Although the consonants went through a cosmetic shift, “combed” and “unkempt” share a toothy root. The spirit of Dante reminds me that “purgatory” is a place of “purging.”
Interestingly, the relationship between “urge” and “urgency” swooped right over my unkempt head until recently. This may belong in the Too-Much-Information Department, but I finally made the connection because, as a man of a certain age, Mother Nature whispered it in my ear.
Despite the obvious resemblance, “surge” and “surgery” are completely unrelated. (The former comes from the Latin surgere, “to rise,” whereas the latter comes from the Italian cirurgerie. But what about “emerge” and “emergency?”
I once saw myself as being technologically progressive. I was keen on gadgetry, and at one time spoke BASIC almost as well as I spoke English. (I knew how to order coffee and ask directions in Assembly Language and COBOL, and in later years was pretty proficient in HTML, but to say I spoke them would be an exaggeration).
But these days I’m finding myself uneasy about using my Kindle. And the notion of texting still befuddles me. (I find it impossible to write a text without using proper grammar and spelling).
Does that make me a Luddite? That term gets bandied about a lot. But I think it’s overused. A Luddite isn’t just a person who avoids or dislikes technology. To be a true Luddite, a person must (1) believe that their livelihood is harmed by technology, and in response, (2) take action to sabotage or destroy technological equipment.
So no, I’m not really a Luddite. And most likely neither are you.
The movement was named after a figure of legend named “King Ludd” who is probably a variation on the Robin Hood legend. Like the green-hooded archer, Ludd was reputed to have lived in Sherwood Forest and was a fierce defender of the weak who destroyed the knitting equipment of the rich.