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The buck stops here

Posted by ESC on September 01, 2005

In Reply to: The buck stops here posted by Steve E on September 01, 2005

: : : : : : Who was the first writer to use the phrase "the buck stops here"?

: : : : : Could it have been President Truman? I await correction!

: : : : Truman had a sign on his desk that said it....

: : : "The sign "The Buck Stops Here" that was on President Truman's desk in his White House office was made in the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma. Fred M. Canfil, then United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri and a friend of Mr. Truman, saw a similar sign while visiting the Reformatory and asked the Warden if a sign like it could be made for President Truman. The sign was made and mailed to President on October 2, 1945."
: : : From: Mitford M. Mathews, ed., A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1951), I, pages 198-199.
: : : This doesn't quite answer the question, except negatively. The expression may be as old as the expression, "pass the buck," q.v. SS

: : From the

: : "The Buck Stops Here" is a famous sign that is a part of American political folklore. It was given to President Truman in 1945, but it is unclear how long it sat on his oval office desk.

: : The saying derives from the expression "to pass the buck", which means to avoid responsibility. The sign came to express Truman's decisiveness and accountability.

: : As he stated during an early crisis, "I don't pass the buck. Nor, do I alibi out of any decision I make."

: It may be helpful to understand how the word 'buck' is used here. It refers to a "buck slip" which was a small piece of paper--typically about 3-1/2 by 5 inches. Years ago, prior to the invention of Post-Its, you would have a desk accessory which would hold these small pieces of paper neatly on your desk for writing quick notes. You would write a note on a buck slip and pass it along to the person who had to deal with the issue. If it was a difficult issue or one that no one wanted to deal with, they would pass the buck slip all around until someone would have to eventually deal with it.

: Hence, to 'pass the buck' means to 'pass the buck slip' around to avoid dealing with the issue.

Here's what Mr. Safire says:

BUCK STOPS HERE - "The motto comes from the phrase 'passing the buck,' which is a poker-playing expression.The buck was a marker to show who next had the deal; the buck could be passed by someone who did not want the responsibility of dealing to the man on his left. (The marker was occasionally a silver dollar, which, by the way, is how the dollar became known as a buck.)" From "Safire's New Political Dictionary" by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993).