Run a tab

Posted by Lewis on September 22, 2003

In Reply to: Strapped for cash. Run a tab posted by James Briggs on September 22, 2003

: I had the following sent to me the other day. I'm dubious about both but, in none of my reference books is there an explanation - other than suggesting an analogy between hunger and belt tightening with being short of cash. I can find no mention in our archives. What to others think of the suggestion/s? Do you know of a better origin/s?

: "I have read that "strapped for cash" had to do with London publicans extending credit to porters who wanted to drink, but had no cash until payday. So the publican would "run a tab", or strap of leather, with the porter's name off of the wall or back bar and notch it for each drink served. Therefore the terms "strapped for cash" and "running a tab"."

I don't think the two expressions are linked - I have no reason to doubt the "strapped" part, but I thought it had something to do with giving something (perhaps a harness strap) as security.
A "tab" is entirely different - because it is unsecured credit. Publicans would often give credit to regular customers and the drinks would be marked up 'on the slate' - literally a slate as in board for writing in chalk - so that when paid, the customer had "a clean slate" again. Another word for a writing slate is a "tablet" - in other words "a tab' " - so unsecured credit is on the tab or on the slate or (thirdly) "on tick" where loans would need to be paid back each week to the tally-man who kept 'a tally' of the money owed. Tally-men would often record payments on small sticks on which they would tick-off payments made. the customer and the lender would both have sticks and they could be compared to make sure that they "tallied" with each other.