Mr Moneybags, here are the men you’re looking for

Posted on Wed 10 Apr 2013 @ 3.45am UTC

SEVERAL days ago my neighbour was looking for a heads-up on a couple of English phrases that have stumped him. Desperation was written all over his face. Here’s money in his pocket.

banknotes_3My teenage neighbour is on the last nine yards of his decade-long school life now. I can relate to his feelings of desperation because in a few days’ time he’ll be sitting (AmE: taking) some kind of English Language examination and—

“I don’t understand why there are so many different phrases for a rich person. The dictionaries and Google say one thing, but the books I’ve been reading throughout somehow seem to mean something else. My teacher can’t explain [to class] because we don’t think she knows it herself.” — My teenage neighbour

His problem is like most other secondary students: much of their school reading material is from Victorian times — a common aspect in the school regimes of most ex-British colonies (the USA being the only practical exception). It’s a real hassle because Victorian-era language is quite hardgoing even for native English speakers.

[Stop digressing. Help the boy out.—Editor.]

Without further gilding of the lillies, I’ll just go straight in so that my neighbour can hit the ground running for his impending exam. I’ll try to be conclusive as I can, and use some Chinese to help explain things to him.

Throughout this article, these two terms are interchangeable:—

  • considerable capital (wealth or income)
  • quite a lot of money or otherwise not poor

Asterisk (*) indicates wrong, questionable or inadvisable usage.

Hat tip to my typesetting crew for typing the Chinese characters for me.

* * *


a rich man, ~ woman, ~ person

fail DSC00135 2012 0513 1334A rich man is:—

  • the most basic and literal phrase
  • means a person who has considerable capital (wealth or income) or otherwise not poor
  • ‘considerable capital’ means ‘quite a lot of money’
  • can mean a wealthy individual
  • but wealthy sometimes mean more than just having a lot of money

Usual translations are:

  1. 一個富有的人 (a person having wealth in the form of money)
  2. 一個擁有錢的人 (a person having actual money)
  3. 一個有錢人 (chiefly Cantonese usage)

Realise there is considerable overlap of use between formal and informal equivalents of a rich man, depending on the ‘angle’ of the writing or speech (i.e. expressions normally for formal use can be useable for informal etc purposes and vice-versa).

Usual equivalents acceptable for most formal and/or non-slang use are:

  • man of means (below)
  • man of substance (below)
  • man of wealth
  • moneyed man/men, ~ woman/women, ~ person(s), ~ people
  • wealthy individual(s), ~ person(s), ~ people (usually not ~ man or woman)
  • rich people (general plural), e.g. These are rich people
  • the rich (generic mass noun), e.g. They are the rich in our society

Usual equivalents for most informal, colloquial and slang use are:

  • fat cat
  • man of money
  • man made of money
  • man with the money
  • Mr Moneybags

What’s important to know:— Broadly speaking, native English speakers tend to avoid using a rich man because it can be a highly charged expression. Most tend to just to describe with the more direct, literal expression a person who has quite a lot of money for most purposes.

* * *


lipsNow things get a bit more difficult with these (seemingly) related words:—

  1. man of money
  2. man with the money
  3. man of substance
  4. man of means
  5. man of ways and means
  6. man of wealth and importance
  7. man of wealth and means
  8. man of wealth and taste

Some of these phrases a similar meaning 差不多意思 (that is, a person with a lot of money) — but might carry a slightly connotation (意味: a suggested or implied meaning in addition to the primary or literal meaning). Some of them actually have nothing to do with money.


a man of money 一個富有的人 / 疊水友

What it means:— For most practical purposes, a literal phrase. A man of money is a person with considerable capital (therefore same as a rich man above).

prepay in advanceWhy it’s important:— Same meaning as a rich man but it does carry a non-literal flavour. Useful sometimes to indicate or suggest the idea or quality that the rich person is almost as if he was made of money (of course, he literally isn’t constructed in money). You decide why you want to describe things with a non-literal flavour.

Variations:— Woman of money. Plural and the mass noun is usually moneyed people, but people of money is also acceptable (although it sounds a bit stilted). Man made of money is an alternative form. Older (or maybe just older-fashioned) people tend to use man of money as a fixed phrase (i.e. not replacing man with woman or person).

How it translates: Literal translations are the same as for a rich man:—

  1. 一個富有的人 (a person having wealth in the form of money)
  2. 一個擁有錢的人 (a person having a lot of money)
  3. 一個有錢人 (ditto, chiefly Cantonese usage)

Nearest matches for non-literal translation might have to be these Cantonese phrases:—

  • 疊水友 (daap shui yau, literally, “dude stacked with water/liquid”)
  • 有米之人 (yau maie ji yan, literally, “man who has “got rice”: rice is Cantonese slang for money or wealth)

The last one has led to the Chinese-American joke “You got rice?” (to mean “Are you loaded?”).

Money is the root of all evil. — 1 Timothy 6:10 (KJV)

Lack of money is the root of all evil. — Mark Twain

Evil uproots all of your money. — Grandpa


the man with the money

What it means:— Chiefly a literal phrase (same as a rich man or man of money above), but this phrase extends that meaning. Practical meaning is a rich person who is regarded as the main source of funds or has control over such funding in relation to some undertaking or effort. In other words, the man with the money is the “to-go guy” for getting money from to accomplish something.


John’s the man with the money if you’re looking for project funding.

She’s the man [woman] with the money when it comes to the family purse strings.

go for goldWhy it’s important:— A rich man and man of money both simply man someone who has a lot of money. But the man with the money shows he also has some kind of pre-eminence over others because of that money connection. In other words, a rich person who has control over the purse strings.

Variations:— Applies only to a particular individual, so there are no plural or mass forms like *the men (women, persons, people) with the money. The phrase originally was a fixed one and applied to both sexes, but it is acceptable nowadays to use the woman with the money or the person with the money.

How it translates:— No effective translation. Use translations for a rich man or man of money.

Trivia:— In 1966, British rock band The Who recorded the track “Man With Money,” which was written and originally recorded by The Everly Brothers. The song remained unreleased until 1995, when it appeared in The Who album “A Quick One” as one of several bonus tracks. The song and its title only used man with money but it is frequently misquoted as using man with the money.


a man of substance 一個擁有錢的人

What it means:— The commonest non-literal expression. The principal British English meaning of a man of substance is literally a person with a lot of money (because substance in BrE also means ‘material possessions or wealth’). That leads to two broader, semi-literal meanings both materialistic in tone:—

  • a man with lots of money and professional success, or
  • a man with solid financial standing and good reputation

For example, Roberto De Vicq de Cumptich wrote Men of Letters and People of Substance (Boston, MA: David R. Goldine, 2007), a remarkable paperback that gives an elegant series of portraits of literary giants composed solely of typefaces and typographical ornaments.

no differenceExtended meanings:— Americans understand this phrase differently. To them, a man of substance has character and integrity, usually—

  • “having true grit” (not shallow)
  • “a person of honour” (trustworthy and upstanding)
  • “not speaking out of both sides of his mouth” (down-to-earth, direct and honest)

That’s because the basis of the American sense is roughly from this—

The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious. Proverbs 12:27

The British regard that use as fully metaphorical, but Americans only as semi-literal. American religious writing also uses the phrase referring to character. The American sense is increasingly taking over the traditional British meaning, mainly because of the increasing americanisation of British education since the 1990s.

Why it’s important:— Useful sometimes to suggest the idea that the person is rich as well as having good reputation and/or professional success. For example, the title of the book A Woman of Substance (1979) by Barbara Taylor Bradford plays on both meanings — her heroine is a strong character who amasses a considerable fortune.

Variations:— Woman (person, people) of substance. Plurals acceptable — be careful not to pluralise substance, otherwise it means drugs:—

A Man of Substances: The Misdeeds and Growing Pains of a Pot Pioneer by Gerald J. McCarthy (iUniverse, 2010)

How it translates:— A man of substance translates as 一個擁有錢的人 / 一個有錢人.

Wrong:— Believe it or not, a man of substance is often mistranslated — usually as *一個有物質的人 (literally, a person having actual ‘substance’ or physical matter). This is crazy. The phrase has nothing to do with physical matter. Both my various professional translation subcontractors and I have seen this (and other) mistranslation numerous times in books, movie or TV captions, and even in dictionaries.


This writer (probably an American based on his/her spelling habits) uses a man of substance in the traditional (British) sense:—

“I remember hearing that phrase while growing up. It was always used with the understanding that being ‘of substance’ generally meant ‘successful’, ‘classy’ and so on. Being a man (or woman) of substance meant to be and act like one from the upper echelons of society. I’ve learned something different, which is my understanding. What I’ve learned about the pre-conceived ideal of ‘substance’ is, it usually is met with shallowness and haughtiness. Not of ‘substance’ at all…rather a LACK of true substance. All is done for face value, with the desire to succeed and be noticed.”— “Being a man of substance” (27 Dec 2012)

The ‘angle’ taken by Francine LeFrak in her article  is entirely in the sense of ‘character’ and representative of how most Americans come to understand this phrase.

F. LeFrak | Bravo, Ben Affleck: A Man of Substance | Huffington Post | 26 Feb 2013

Many Americans still relate to substance in the sense of actual matter or material of a thing (rather than appearance) even in a ‘literalistic’ form of metaphorical use:—

“No, actually Mitt Romney & Paul Ryan are both men of substance. That substance being lies & hate. […] Most people on the right go along with it & falsely believe that any substance is ‘better than Obama’. Romney/Ryan has substance, all negative & worthless in real life, but they do have some. Unfortunately for America, the substance of the left is nearly as harmful to the American People as the rights’ & centers […].” — libertyinfinite, commenting in “Paul Krugman: Paul Ryan ‘Was Never a Man of Substance’ ” (ABC News, 09 Sept 2012)

Very unusually, some writers take substance in the literal sense of physical matter:—

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” — Ralph W. Ellison, American novelist, Invisible Man (1952)


man of means 一個擁有錢財的人 / 白手起家的人

What it means:— An idiom closely related to a man of substance. Basically a man of means is just another phrase for a rich person. The real, practical meaning is a ‘self-made’ man., i.e. a person who achieved wealth, status, etc, by his own efforts.

Why it’s important:— See “Why self-made?” below.

Variations:— Woman (person, people) of means. Plurals acceptable.

How it translates:— This phrase causes quite plenty of translation problems because of the sense of ‘self-made.’ To translate for that sense, we have possibly two choices:—

  • 一個擁有錢財的人 / 一個有金錢財富的人 (literal)
  • 白手起家的人 (northerners 北方人) / 白手興家的人 (southerners 南方人)

Wrong:— Man of means has been in common use almost since the time of the beginning of English (the Norman Conquest of 1066), coming directly from the French l’homme de [gros] moyens (man of wherewithal or capability, in the sense of a self-made man). So it’s then quite unbelievable to find so many dictionaries and schoolbooks mistranslate it as *一個(擁)有手段的人. Means, when used only on its own, may reasonably be taken to mean 手段 in Chinese. But when means is used in a phrase like man of means, that translation is wrong. See later for the correct Chinese for 擁有手段的人.


Self-made men are apt to be a little too proud of the job.
— Chinese aphorism

Men of means mean business in the business of men.
— English aphorism

It’s arguably true that a 白手起家的人 (self-made man) has to have some 手段 (ingenuity) to make his fortune, but it’s going too far to describe such a person as 有手段的人 (a person with ingenuity — an “ingenious person” means something else). Indeed, the phrase’s meaning is midway between 擁有錢財的人 and 白手起家的人.

different or what

In a very big way, a man of means tells us something more about that rich person. While man of substance simply says this is a rich guy (but nothing about the where or the how of his fortune), a man of means tells us this rich guy is a self-made man.

The phrase “self-made man” (or woman) describes a person who was born poor or otherwise disadvantaged but achieved success financially or professionally because of his own hard work and ingenuity rather than because of any inherited fortune, family connections or other privilege.

In other words, he made it on his own with no outside help.

“It’s just as difficult to live in a self-made hell of privacy as it is to live in a self-made hell of publicity.”
— Michael Hutchence (1960–97) of Australian rock band INXS

Throughout the cultural history of the USA and in the general American mindset, the idea of the self-made man is a cultural ideal. In contrast, this isn’t so in the UK and ‘related’ countries — the self-made man isn’t exactly despised, but certainly not well liked.

For example, Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave-turned-author in the USA, delivered a famous lecture called Self-Made Men in 1895. In it, Douglass gave his own definitions of the self-made man and explained the means to become such a person.

P.G. Wodehouse and C.H. Bovill wrote a collection of six short stories called A Man of Means (in Strand magazine, UK, 1914), which appeared in Pictorial Review magazine (USA, 1916) and later published in book form (by Porpoise Books, UK, 1991). The collection was released on Project Gutenberg in 2003.

The Art of Manliness has a list called 25 Greatest Self-Made Men in American History.

In the old days (about 100 years ago and before), man of means often meant a self-made man who made his fortune in the Orient — what the Americans sometimes call a “nabob.”

Of course, everyone knows (or should know) the famous lyrics from Roger Miller’s 1964 hit song King of the Road.


I could tell from her address that she was a woman of means.

Craig is a successful salesperson. He has been making a good deal of money for the past five years. Craig has invested his money well. Because of these wise investments Craig is now a rich man. Craig is a man of means.

“I ain’t got no cigarettes! I’m a man of means by no means — King of the Road!”
— Roger Miller’s song “King of the Road” (1964)

“ ‘I just told you,’ Dennis said, aggravated. The man wants his money. After years of living off the grid, he’s suddenly a man of means. ‘I think I might just change some of my sermon for Easter Sunday,’ Davis said.”
Chicago Tribune, “Homeless man living in a tent hits it big with a scratch off” by John Kass, 30 March 2013 | via Muck Rack

“As a man of means, Ip Man didn’t have to work, but instead had ‘hobbies.’ The opening scene of ‘The Grandmaster,’ in which the central character takes on a gang of opponents, reflects that conclusion. Why would he be fighting on the streets on a pitch-black night in a heavy downpour? asked Mr Wong. ‘Because he enjoyed himself.’ ”
The Wall Street Journal (Blog), “The Wisdom of Wong Kar-wai” by Dean Napolitano, 22 March 2013

“I’m not a man of means but I’m sure as hell learning what it means to be a man.”
— Jake Willets (justplainjake) on Twitter, 01 April 2013 @ 6.34pm

“Money, power, a man of means, chasing down irrational dreams but when you came along I was freed of it.”
— Bellatrix Lestrange (olmightycleo) on Twitter, 01 April 2013 @ 8.03am


a man of ways and means 一個有手段的人

What it means:— An idiom but hardly ever occurs nowadays. This is a damn hell of a phrase for even a native English speaker to explain (and for others to translate) if you have no experience or understanding of ways and means, an old-fashioned English phrase mostly used in legal and political circles. Practical meaning is a person who knows the methods of achieving something, such as by leverage, artifice or ingenuity.

The money factor may figure in as a ‘hidden’ meaning because ways and means mean:—

  1. legislation and other methods for raising revenue for the use of the government
  2. methods and means of accomplishing or paying for something

The most famous example is the House Committee on Way and Means, the chief tax-writing committee of the United States House of Representatives (the lower house of the American parliament).

Australian musician Paul Kelly released in 2004 released a pop/folk rock double album called “Ways & Means” (2004). If you look at the first three tracks’ titles, you can tell he understands the meaning of ways and means.

bollocks innitWhy it’s important:— Important for non-literal description —it’s an idiom, so you have to decide why you want to describe things non-literally. It’s just a non-literal phrase to describe someone who has the ability to make things happen plus perhaps some influence on money matters.

Variations:— The phrase is a fixed idiom and applied to a particular individual, but it is possible nowadays to use a woman (person) of ways and means but not plurals. We don’t recommend using a woman of ways and means because it sounds too much like a woman of wile and guile (a woman of cleverly inventive seduction: an ingenious woman), a phrase that can get you into serious legal trouble. For the mass noun, most native speakers would simply say powerful people or influential people. If you want logic, study chemistry or physics, not English.

How it translates:— Closest match for Sense 2 would be 一個(擁)有手段的人ally, a man who has the ingenuity to make things happen).

Wrong:— This is an idiom, so it’s stupid to translate it literally as *一個有方式和方法的人. Like I said (see section Question Time below), an idiom is 非字面意思的短語 (not 成語). Realise now that the Chinese idiom (成語) is functionally different as against the English idiom.


a man of wealth and importance 非常需要重視的人?

What it means:— An idiom — and it doesn’t mean what you think it means! It has nothing to do with money or wealth. The phrase is English in origin (as in England) but primarily used in American writing (especially religious writing). Two meanings:—

  1. Rusha person who is determined to be an important or recognised figure in some field or community (sometimes but not necessarily resorting to pretences at greatness or importance)
  2. a person who over time has garnered respectable recognition, standing and importance within a field or community by some ability or history (in this sense, it would be like man of wealth and means 有財有世的人 below)

Both senses have a long history. Sense 1 is less common nowadays but not rare. Most people today use Sense 2 as the phrase’s modern meaning.

Why it’s important:— Important for non-literal description —it’s an idiom, so you yourself have to decide why you want to describe things non-literally. It’s just a phrase to describe the person for Sense 1 or Sense 2 in a non-literal way.

Variations:— Woman (person) of wealth and importance. Plurals uncommon because the idiom by default applies to a particular individual.

How it translates:— No occurrence found of any translation of this phrase with the correct meaning. We therefore suggest the following as working translations:—

  • Sense 1: 非常需要重視的人 (literally, a person with great need for importance)
  • Sense 2: 有財有世的人 (i.e. synonymous with man of wealth and means)


This modern quotation easily shows Sense 1 (emphasis mine):—

“Of course, that latter bit gets him in trouble far more often than his semi-seamy magic show does. The women fall in love with him, you see. They want him to settle down, be a good man. But, frankly, being a good man isn’t for him. His father was a good man—he slaved away his whole life and died facedown in the dirt he toiled over. You can keep that destiny! Oscar, or Oz, as everybody calls him, is set on another goal: He’s going to be a ‘great’ man. A man of wealth and importance. A showman to beat all showmen.” — Movie review “Oz the Great and Powerful” at

This 180-year-old quotation shows the connection to Sense 2:—

man of wealth and importance walter scott vol 6 2013 0405

(Sir Walter Scott, The Complete Works of Sir Walter Scott: With a Biography, and His Last Additions and Illustrations, Volume 6 (New York: Connor & Cooke, 1833), page 208, 2nd para)

This quotation shows Sense 2 in terms of ability (emphasis mine):—

“When, on a bleak December day in 1606, more than three hundred years ago, Milton was born, Elizabeth was dead, and James of Scotland sat upon a throne, but many of the great Elizabethans still lived. Shakespeare was still writing, still acting, although he had become a man of wealth and importance and the owner of New Place.”— H.E. Marshall, English Literature for Boys and Girls, (1923), reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2004, page 311, last para

This quotation shows Sense 2 in terms of history:—

“William Morgan was a man of wealth and importance, being connected, through both father and mother, with the leading families of Gwent and Morgannwg. He was Bailiff of Abercam and Mynysddislwyn in 1552, sat as a Member of Parliament from Monmouthshire during the years 1555–1571 and served as Sheriff of Monmouthshire in 1568.” — William G. Scroggins, Leaves of A Stunted Shrub, Volume 2, page 394 (Cockeysville, Maryland: Nativa LLC,, 2009)

This quotation seems to combine partly Sense 1 with partly Sense 2 (emphasis mine):—

“Muhammad at that time developed a plan that would see him as a man of wealth and importance, he declared he had a vision and this vision was claimed as being from god.  A uncle of great importance to the Arab peoples, who had just converted to Christianity was convinced this vision was from god and declared Mohammad was a Prophet to the Arab people.” — Kevin Hicks, Mohammad’s desire for Omnipotence, Australian T.E.A. Party, 13 March 2013

Disclaimer: We chose that quotation only for the purposes of showing the meanings of the phrase. People such as Kevin Hicks is entitled to their religious opinions and we pass no judgment on them. The official position of this blog is that Muhammad’s plan and declaration were divinely inspired — and that’s good enough for us. If we could have found a less controversial quotation, we would have used it otherwise.

The Bible uses a meaning mostly similar to Sense 1, but realise that religious meanings usually are for a religious purpose and not always applicable to normal everyday life. The key verse relating to Sense 1 is:—

There is one that makes himself rich, yet has nothing: there is one that makes himself poor, yet has great riches. Proverbs 13:4 (KJV)

Explanations of the religious meaning of that verse are:—

“In opposite ways men act hypocritically for gain of honor or wealth.” — Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown, Chapter 13, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary (Baker Books, USA, 1871)

“There is a seeming wealth behind which there lies a deep spiritual poverty and wretchedness. There is a poverty which makes a person rich for the kingdom of God.”— Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible (1834), reissued as Barnes Notes on the Old and New Testaments, 14 volumes (1983)

Finally, a quotation that combines Senses 1 and 2 along with man of substance and man of means, and maybe even man of ways and means:—

“The character of Daisy Werthan is rather complex. She is a self-made woman, someone who’s risen above her poor beginnings to marry a man of wealth and importance in the town. However, she is not proud of this; rather, she looks upon her days ‘on Forsyth Street’ as her real self — the days when she didn’t have two dimes to rub together. Mentioning her being a rich woman makes her see red, and she often corrects people when they talk about her wealth.” — Dee Fisher, A Daily By Any Other Name, Van Wert Civic Theatre, 16 Oct 2012


a man of wealth and means 一個有財有世(勢)的人

What it means:— Treat as idiom. An old-fashioned phrase that hardly occurs in modern usage. Occurs irregularly in pre-World War Two writings — but even then people preferred the more direct “with money and influence/power” instead. It means a person of considerable capital (wealth or income) and substantial social standing or influence. — in this sense, the phrase is more like man of wealth and importance (Sense 2) above.

charity begins at homeWhy it’s important:— Important for non-literal description —it’s an idiom, so you yourself have to decide why you want to describe things non-literally. It’s just a phrase to describe a person with money and influence in a non-literal way.

Variations:— Woman (person, people) of wealth and means. Plurals acceptable. People of wealth and means is itself the mass noun.

How it translates:— The correct (and perhaps old-fashioned) translations are:—

  • 一個有財有世的人 (Cantonese: yat gor yau choi yau sai dik yan)
  • 一個擁有財勢的人 / 一個有財有勢的人(Mandarin: yī-gè yǒng-yǒu cái-shì de rén / yī-gè yǒu-cái yǒu-shì de rén, lit. a person with wealth and power)

Both translations mean, literally, a person who has wealth and ‘the world,’ that is, influence and power.

Remark:— No occurrence found of the English phrase in any modern printed or online material, so we may consider this a lost idiom.


a man of wealth and taste

What it means:— Actually, nothing to do with money. But it’s an interesting phrase because we have a choice of literal or non-literal meanings:—

  1. non-literal:— a person whose general appearance or demeanour is spectacular or agreeable by pretending to be nicer than anyone they have ever met
  2. literal:— a person with a lot of money and excellent taste or habits in cultural matters (一個擁有財富和品味的人)

Sense 1 (non-literal) is the primary meaning. In fact, this phrase is a trope (from the Greek trópos, trépein, to turn, turning, turn of speech) — a “conceptual or metaphorical figure of speech” for storytelling.

Why it’s important (sense 1):— As a trope, a man of wealth and taste isn’t even a non-literal phrase for descriptive purposes. It is a storytelling shorthand. It is often played up as a TV or movie trope (電視或電影比喻) — a convention that a screenwriter can reasonably rely on being already present in the minds and expectations of the audience members. It is a storytelling shorthand for describing something (like a story) from the viewpoint of someone infamous or evil — the bad guy’s side of the story, at least how he sees or experiences it. In other words, Sense 1 is even more idiomatic than a regular idiom.

darth escher

Why it’s important (sense 2):— Broadly speaking, the literal sense of this phrase isn’t used by native English speakers — though they will take it in the literal sense whenever they hear it used by a non-native speaker (but a lot depends on how articulate and fluent the non-native speaker is). There are two main reasons for this:—

  • older native speakers whose formative years were mainly in the 1960s will have remembered that notorious hit song “Sympathy For The Devil” (1969) by The Rolling Stones (and that’s in sense 1)
  • younger native speakers often avoid the phrase because to the native ear it just sounds like it has a hidden meaning (which is actually the whole point of the trope), so some will work around it by reversing the phrase to a man of taste and wealth

Variations:— Although originally a fixed phrase, it’s acceptable nowadays to use woman of wealth and taste. The generic is still a man of wealth and taste. No plural because the phrase is applicable only to a particular individual.

How it translates:— This is a trope, so it’s one of those rare English idioms that defies translation because it’s precisely integral to the culture of the English (and to a lesser extent also the Scots and the Irish but perhaps not the Welsh). Translating this phrase had stumped even my Grandpa, a man who had the gift of the gab and rarely stanched for lack of words or interpretations. Grandpa and I (plus my legal translators) pretty much settled on 一個有人性的人 or 一個有人情味的人, precisely opposites of the stated quality but pretty much in line with the basic idea conveyed in the English phrase, especially as a movie trope. Translation for the literal sense is as given above.

Trivia:— You really have to hand it to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for coming up with a song that really explains this phrase. “Sympathy For the Devil” (a track in The Rolling Stones’ 1969 album “Beggars Banquet”) describes humanity’s sordid history of violence and lust for wealth and power from Satan’s point of view. The song title was inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s works as well as specifically by Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita (which had just appeared in English translation in 1967). Many bands (notably U2 and Guns ‘n’ Roses) have covered this song in live concert. The song begins with its famous first two lines:—

Sympathy For The Devil
(Mick Jagger and Keith Richards: 1969)

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste

I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith

And I was round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

* * *


How do I know your translations are correct?

You take it on faith from a person who’s a native speaker of both English and Chinese. Of course, you can simply cite this article as your authority. That way, you’ll be off the hook because your defence (in true legal fashion) would be that you have placed full reliance on the putative representations of this article (since nowhere in this article states “We make no representations,” etc.

Understand that this article ISN’T about the correct translations of those phrases. This article is actually about the correct English meanings of those English phrases, and in that sphere of concern, this article makes every possible representation about its authenticity and correctness.

Where did you get the translations from?

I work as a financial printer, which means the things I print are legal documents (even if some of them physically appear like a joke gone wrong). In the course of producing them, I work with experienced legal translators, either those who work for my clients or those I subcontract the work to.

Legal translation is a high-speed, high-accuracy line of work. You could already imagine the legal consequences (and the costs) of the output. Fortunately for us, none of our output has ever been the subject of a lawsuit, which is perhaps a nicer way of saying my translators know their job.

In the office, we have a bilingual list (actually, an in-house stylebook) of legal and non-legal terms that we use to regularise our usage. Some of the terms are official or legal requirements. Other terms are from the experience and conventions adopted in the course of my translators’ work. Some even came from Grandpa (via me). That is where I got those translations.

And, no, you can’t have that list because it’s my proprietary asset.

But I’ll be more than happy to recommend any of my translators to you. No commission or middleman fee required.

How do I know your grandfather was any good?

I don’t wish to be rude, but unless you can show me something real or better (or both) in Chinese, German and English that trumps what my translators and I have seen over the years, then I’m more than happy to change my mind and practices. Until then, it’s only reasonable that we go on the best-available thing, which is what we have at hand.

Through this blog, I’ve shown you what Grandpa had shown me in his living years. If you (or your grandpa) can do better, then I’m all for it! But if you’re knocking just for the lulz, then I got bad news for you if ever we bump in the streets…

You’re very welcomed to write guestposts on this blog, if you wish. If you do, it will be on a pro bono basis.

I’m also pretty sure that, looking back at Grandpa’s life and work, it seems in all estimation and on balance of probability that he really was fantastic with words. I won’t bore you with Grandpa’s bio, other than to say that if you are going to take non-literal/idiomatic expressions and translating them verbatim in a literal sense (as many translators are wont to do), then I have bad news for you about your understanding and involvement in Chinese, English and translation work…

I honestly hope for your sake you’re not the type who’d translate an academic point as 學術觀點 or 學術論點. Truly.

What’s wrong with the English of Victorian times?

The problem my neighbour is facing is that much of his reading material set by school is typically from Victorian times — a common occurrence in the school regimes of most ex-British colonies (the USA being the sole practical exception).

Victorian-era writings are typically filled with phraseology whose actual meanings are different from the literal meanings of the words used. In a practical sense, such expressions are idioms (成語) — words or phrases with non-literal meanings (非字面意思的短語).

It’s a problem because Victorian literature (therefore Victorian-style language) can be hard-going (困難) even for native English speakers.

Broadly speaking, Victorian English is—

  • verbose (wordy: 羅唆?)
  • circumlocutory (diffusive, oblique, roundabout: 隱晦)
  • frequently filled hidden meanings
  • unnecessarily formal (優等) and formalistic (形式主義) in tone (especially compared with literature from Georgian times before it and anytime after it)

The result is that most Victorian-era writing contains s a lot of gentrified (高檔化) phraseology (用語) and tone (筆調) in keeping with the nation- and empire-building sentiments and outlook of the ruling classes of those times.

What’s up with the idiom aspect?

In a crazy twist of non-literalism, the word idiom itself has long been mistranslated as 成語 chéng-yǔ (Cantonese: shing yue). In reality, the Chinese definition of chéng-yǔ isn’t quite the same as the English definition of idiom. The Chinese chéng-yǔ is also functionally different from the English idiom. In other words, we cannot be using the Chinese definition as the equivalent of the English one, even though it’s true enough that Chinese idioms have some functionalities that operate in the same way English idioms also do.

Grandpa favoured 非字面意思的短語 (not 成語) as the far clearer, more readily understandable term. Using that definition, the learner can actually infer (推斷) on his own what idiom means. “Never give literal explanations using non-literal language,” Grandpa always said. So I’ll go along with his preference until the linguists come up with something more workable for anybody still grappling with English.

“Shit, sometimes you’re so good you surprise me. Maybe you should be the translator sometimes.”
— A translator of 30 years of experience to me (ca. 2011)

No, not really, thankyouverymuch.

* * *


THERE ARE actually numerous alternative words for ‘money’ in English. Not all are slang or colloquialisms — some are legitimate alternatives usable even in formal contexts.

pay-peanutsNo point in splitting the list up into British vs. American or slang vs. non-slang versions because there is considerable crossover usage anyway. The list gives only the commonest ones in widespread use in the world.

bank = money (generic)

banknote(s) = paper money: British banknotes vs. American bills

Benjamin(s) = the United States $100 bill

big ones = multiples of 1,000 dollars, pounds, etc (any currency)

bill(s) = paper money: American bills vs. British banknotes

bills = (AmE) multiples of US$100

bones = dollars (generic, americanism, origin unknown)

bread = money (generic)

buck(s) = dollars (any kind of dollars)

C’s, Cs = multiples of 100 (any currency: from Roman symbol C = 100)

clams = (chiefly American usage) dollars

coppers = any kind of copper, bronze or brass coinage

dead presidents = any American paper money (from portraits of presidents on them)

dime(s) = the American 10-cent coin

dough = money (generic)

doubles = (chielfy American usage) $20 bills

ducat(s) (rhymes with bucket) = money (from an ancient money denomination)

five-spot(s) = the American $5 bills

fiver(s) = five dollars, pounds, etc (any currency whether paper or coin)

fives = multiples of five dollars, pounds, etc (any currency whether paper or coin)

folding stuff = paper money

greenback(s) = American dollars (common slang in the financial industry)

G’s, Gs = 1,000 dollars, pounds, etc (any currency: short for grand)

grand = 1,000 dollars, pounds, etc (any currency), e.g. three grand = $3,000

liquid = money (generic)

loot = money (originally, goods obtained in illicit way or the spoils of war)

lucre = money or profit (from biblical expression filthy lucre, ill-gotten gains)

moolah, moola = money (generic)

nickel(s) = the American 5¢ coin

ones = multiples of one dollar, pound, etc (any currency whether paper or coin)

pence = British plural (since 1971) of penny

penny (~ies) = (1) the British 1p coin; (2) the United States 1¢ coin

quarter(s) = the United States 25¢ coin

quid = the British £1 coin or note, e.g. Here’s my five quid.

scratch (mass n.) = money (generic)

shekels (mass n.) = dollars (usually U.S. dollars) (from biblical or Israeli currency)

silvers = any kind of silver-coloured coinage

singles = banknote/bill (not coin) denominated in 1 dollar, pound, etc

smackers = money (generic)

spondulix (sp’on-djew-licks) = money (generic)

stacks = multiples of 1,000-denominated banknotes/bills

tenner(s) = multiples of 10 dollars, pounds, etc (any currency), e.g. five tenners

tens = multiples of 10 dollars, pounds, etc (any currency), e.g. Give me five tens

two bits = (chiefly AmE) 25¢

wad(s) = a bundle of paper money, e.g. She’s got wads of it

Now, that’s money in your pocket, isn’t it?


Additional sources:

—, Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd edition (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

—, Collins English Dictionary, Complete and Unabridged (HarperCollins, 1991).

—, Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary (K Dictionaries Ltd./Random House, 2010).

—, Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (C. & G. Merriam Company, 1913).

Bob Garratt, The Learning Organisation (London: Fontana Paperbacks, 1987).

Richard Hughes, Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time: Hong Kong and its many faces (London: André Deutsch Ltd, 1968).

David Minars and Prentice-Hall Inc., Lawyer’s Desk Book, 10th revised edition (New York: Prentice Hall Inc., 1995) ISBN 978-0132067492.

Tom Pendergast, Creating the Modern Man: American Magazines and Consumer Culture, 1900–1950 (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2000, ISBN 978-082-62128-01), page 10.

Irvin G. Wyllie, The Self-Made Man in America: The Myth of Rags to Riches (Free Press, 1966).


© Learn English or Starve, 2013. (B13108)

Images: Featured image (girl and table) from author’s collection | Money via c4c | Richman by the author | Lips and candy via c4c | Please Prepay In Advance via c4c | Keep Calm and Go For Gold via Scribblicious | No Difference via Steffan Macmillan | Is This Different or What? via c4c | Bollocks, Innit? by author | Yecch! via author’s collection | Charity Begins At Home © Vedran Vukoja #7533154 via Deposit Photos | Darth Vader in M.C. Escher style via Joe Allenbeck | Pay Peanuts, Get Monkey via c4c.

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