Posted by R. Berg on December 30, 2007
In Reply to: Dollars to donuts posted by Taupe on December 30, 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".
: : : I don't think I can quite follow your explanation. But my take on the phrase is that I will bet dollars (worth something) to your doughnuts (worth not very much) that something is as I say. This means that I am extremely confident. I don't see how it could be otherwise. Being paid in doughnuts is not the issue. The issue is how much I'm willing to put up, as against how much I demand that you put up. As for the odds, plainly the odds are on my side (the dollars side), which are short odds because of the near certainty.
: : : SS
: : "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)." David, that's the point in your argument where a reversal has occurred. "I'll bet dollars to doughnuts" means I bet (put at risk) my dollars and you bet your doughnuts. If I'm right, I keep my valuable dollars and take your trivial doughnuts. If I'm wrong, I hand over my dollars and you keep your doughnuts. ~rb
: BTW, a doughnut (or donut) is shaped like a zero. Those capable can research it, but I think there is some history, at least in the US and in sports scores, for saying "doughnut" as a cute way to mean "zero," or "nothing."
I wouldn't be surprised if the association of a hollow doughnut with emptiness (like the zero, which is a line drawn around nothing) contributed to "dollars to doughnuts." Then there's the alliteration. ~rb