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In the red

Posted by R. Berg on July 07, 2008 at 17:17

In Reply to: In the red posted by Victoria S Dennis on July 06, 2008 at 21:21:

: : : "In the red" - phrase finder says this is a 20th century phrase, yet I recently visited the site of "Banco Rocco" in Jewish ghetto in Venice - a bank from the 16th century; where people who needed money went to borrow from Jewish bankers/money lenders.

: : : I was told while there, that if one needed money as a merchant, one went to the red bank (banco rosso) to borrow- and thus- if you were at the red bank's door, it meant you were obviously 'in the red'...

: : : Can anyone verify?

: : You may be correct about the Banco Rosso, but the Oxford English Dictionary believes that "in the red" refers to red ink, or the color of debits. (OED, s.v. Red, 1.g.) That would make the Banco Rosso story an interesting coincidence.
: : SS

: The Collins Dictionary of Slang says that the phrase "in the red" dates from the 1920s, centuries after the Venice Ghetto had ceased to be a banking centre. Even if it were of earlier origin, how many English-speakers do you suppose had ever done their banking in Venice? Go figure! (VSD)

If the Banco Rosso story came from a tour guide, be aware that tour guides are notorious for relaying false accounts of phrase origins. The motif is always "That one was invented here." ~rb