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Origin of phrase "meal ticket"

Posted by ESC on November 12, 2000

In Reply to: Origin of phrase "meal ticket" posted by jim on November 11, 2000

: Anyone know how this phrase originally came into use? Thanks!

When I was in college, we paid a fee per semester and got a meal ticket that we presented at the cafeteria. Today college students still buy meal tickets but, at least at the schools I've been visiting with my children, the tickets are presented at a food court.

I imagine "meal tickets" have been around for a while. It seems to me that I read somewhere that this is a railroad term -- the workers got a meal ticket. An 1899 citation supports that: "meal ticket n., a source, often a person of the opposite sex, exploited or relied upon for one's financial support or livelihood..." From "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, H-O" by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994. There's an 1870 citation and then one from 1899: "Willard 'Tramping' 388: 'Meal-ticket' a tramp term for a person who is 'good' for a meal...'"