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Dollars to donuts

Posted by David Ross on December 29, 2007

Most users maintain that the phrase to "I'll bet dollars to donuts" indicates something is almost certain. If the origin is late 1800s to early 1900s when a dollar was worth a lot and a donut might have cost a penny or a nickel, then the odds would be 100 to 1 or 20 to 1, either way a long shot or something almost certain not to win or happen. Assuming most bettors expect to be paid in dollars, then saying "Let's bet or I'll bet dollars to donuts" implies if I'm right (the winner) then I expect to be paid in your dollars for my risking my donuts (pennies). Thus, when a speaker is placing the bet, then he's betting on a long shot, i.e. something occurring only once out of 50 tries and thus far from certain. I believe that if the ratio between the payoff amount and the amount put at risk is greater than 20 to 1, then both sides recognize a long short is being discussed. Of course, if the speaker is the bookie or the "house" offering the odds, then the traditional "sure thing" meaning arises. But what bookie or "house" wants to be paid in donuts? Unless someone can explain how long odds is commonly used to imply certainty, I submit the current explanation has somehow been reversed. If I wish to imply to certainty, I might suggest "as sure as the sun rises everyday" or "as sure as day follow night".