Clean out of spondulicks!

By Maeve Maddox

While looking up something else, I came across the slang word spondulicks, meaning “money.” It has a U.S. origin, but I don’t recall having ever noticed it before.

It’s in the OED:

spondulicks: n. slang. orig. U.S. [Of fanciful formation.] Money, cash. Also, a piece of money, a coin. 1857 in R. H. Thornton Amer. Gloss. (1912), He lost..All the brass and all the needful, All the spondulix and buttons.

Spondulicks may derive from Greek spondylikos, “vertebra,” which derives from spondylos, a seashell once used as currency. Another spelling is spondulix.

The word is still in use among speakers of British English in England, Australia, and elsewhere, but it has pretty much been forgotten in its land of origin.

According to Michael Quinion at Worldwidewords, “one of its earliest appearances was in a piece about college life in the New York magazine Vanity Fair in 1860,” and it may have originated as college slang.

The vertebra sense of spondylo may have something to do with the coinage of spondulicks in the sense of money.

Blogger Doug Wilson found a reference to “spondulics” in an 1867 book, A Manual of the Art of Prose Composition for the Use of Colleges and Schools, by John Mitchell Bonnell. Included in a list of provincialisms was: “Spondulics — coin piled for counting.” Anyone who has ever played with a stack of coins will see its resemblance to the vertebrae in a bending backbone. It’s easy to see how a humorous medical student might show off his learning by coming up with the word.

spondylo– comb. form of Latin spondyl-us, “vertebra,” occurring in a few modern terms, chiefly Path. in the sense ‘of or pertaining to, connected with, the spine’, as spondylocace, -dynia, -pyosis, -tomy.
spondylitis: n. Inflammation of the vertebral column.

On the other hand, a coin dealer who has named his business The Elusive Spondulix says the word spondulix entered the American vocabulary in 1800, thanks to an exhibit of African and West Indies Cowry-shell money at the Philadelphia Mint.

Whatever its origins, the word is still being used. Here are some examples from the web:

Clicks, Bricks, and Spondulicks (title of a summary of proceedings of a conference held in Australia in 2003)

So. Is there anyone out there with the spondulicks? (someone trying to raise money)

Payday Loans Get You Spondulicks…

Online Pharmacies Entrust You To Spend Less Spondulicks On Medication

Get yourself another tasty helping, as long as you are in possession of the requisite spondulicks. —The Ground Beneath Her Feet (2000), Salman Rushdie,.

‘Listen! You told the nipper that if he came up with two thousand quid you’d give him the place. Supposing I come up with the spondulicks first, won’t I be entitled to it then?’ —The Dowry: A Novel of Ireland (2007), Walter Keady.

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9 Responses to “Clean out of spondulicks!”

  • Bryan

    New word for me! Thanks! I really like to play with words that are not used much. 😀

  • Michael

    It’s a great word! And I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard it much (at all) used in here in Australia, or in the UK. But I fully intend to remedy that!

  • Cesar

    Hehe, as if there weren’t enough slang words for money nowadays… though this is probably the most glamorous one!

  • hz

    Hmm, I’m Australian and haven’t heard of it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s used over here but I’d say if it is, it’s seldom.

  • hz

    ***that should be “not used over here”

  • AnnieR

    Another Aussie who hasn’t heard of it but I do know of spondooly (however it’s spelt) for money.

  • David Logan

    when I was a kid in Illinois in the 40′-50s we spoke of ‘spondula!’ as money. ” I wanted to go to the movies but I didn’t have passes or the spondula!”

    and there’s this:

    Urban Dictionary: spondulas
    buy spondulas mugs, tshirts and magnets. A replacement for the word ‘money’. If I had enough spondulas, I’d buy it. That’s a lot of spondulas …
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=spondulas

  • Cecily

    I’m in England and have heard it occasionally and probably never seen it written. Till now, I assumed it was spelt “spondoolies”, so I can’t have been listening very carefully.

  • Graeme Lindridge

    Spondulicks is rarely heard in Australia these days but was in fairly common usage 50 or so years ago, common enough for some to abbreviate it to ‘spon’.

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