Posted by James Briggs on June 16, 2001
In Reply to: Wooden nickel posted by R. Berg on June 16, 2001
: : What does the phrase "don't take any wooden nickels" come from?
: : Thanks for your help.
: The Dict. of Amer. Slang calls it "a c1920 fad phrase," but it lasted later than that, at least into the 1950s, and probably started earlier. It means "Take care of yourself"; literally, don't accept counterfeit money. A real nickel is worth 5 cents; a wooden nickel is worth nothing.
On this side of the Atlantic we have a somewhat different phrase - 'it's not worth a rap' said to imply that something is of such low value as to be almost worthless. The Rap in this expression was used in Ireland in the 1720s. Small change was in very short supply and the vacuum was filled by counterfeit copper halfpenny pieces. These counterfeits were known as raps. They soon fell to something like a quarter of their supposed value.