Language Lesson, by Sam Humbert

February 6, 2007 |

This morning, offlist, a trader asked after the etymology of "bucket shop."

Allwords.com says: Nineteenth century; originally US, meaning "a shop or bar selling alcoholic drink from open buckets," the drink therefore being of questionable origin.

Wikipedia says: A "bucket shop" in its original format was a shop with a counter under which was a bucket. It offered a high rate of interest on clients' deposits, took money in, put it in the bucket, and when someone withdrew their (sic) money, would take capital and income from the bucket.

But surely the right answer can be found in one of the old-time Wall Street books. Any insights from List scholars?

Alston Mabry writes:

From H. S. Irwin, Legal Status of Trading in Futures (1938):

Bucket shops accepted customers' orders and funds but did not execute the orders on any exchange. Rather, they simply bet the customer would lose and kept the customer's money when they did. If the customer won too much, the bucket shop would simply fold its operations and move to a new location.

Comparative Analysis, John Hill, Jr.; Gold Bricks Of Speculation (1904):

The term "bucketshop" as now applied in the United States was first used in the late 1870s, but it is very evident that it was coined in London as many as 50 years before, when it had absolutely no reference to any species of speculation or gambling. It appears that beer swillers from London's East Side went from street to street with a bucket, draining every keg they came across and picking up castoff cigar butts.

Arriving at a den, they gathered for social amusement around a table and passed the bucket as a loving cup. The den soon became called a bucket shop. Later on, the term was applied, both in England and the United States, as a byword for reproach, to small places where grain and stock deals were counterfeited.



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