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No soap

Q From Anthony Pennock: Why do we say no soap?

A The word soap has had several slang meanings down the years. In the middle nineteenth century in the USA it was used to mean money, though we don’t know why. It’s first recorded about 1860, but by then was probably well established. So somebody who said “No soap!” meant something like “No, I haven’t any money” or “No, I won’t give you a loan”. The modern sense — nothing doing, not a hope, no chance — is a generalisation. Americans have kept no soap but have forgotten the sense of soap that it sprang from.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 4 Dec. 1999
Last updated: 11 Dec. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-nos1.htm
Last modified: 11 December 1999.