What does it mean if someone says, ‘don’t take any wooden nickels’? Where does this adage come from and how would you use it in a sentence? In this article, we’ll look at the definition, origin, and examples.
In short, ‘don’t take any wooden nickels’ means to be careful and not let yourself get cheated by anyone.
‘Don’t take any wooden nickels’ is a proverb that means you should be careful and make sure you don’t let anyone cheat you. It is often used as a way to say goodbye in a lighthearted or jocular way.
People have been saying this phrase since the early 1900s and still say it to this day. That being said, it is less common than it used to be.
According to the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, the adage ‘don’t take any wooden nickels’ was first recorded in 1915. It was used originally as a warning to people living in rural places that migrated to bigger cities at the turn of the century.
The idea is that people from the country might be naive to the tricks of more worldly city dwellers. There weren’t actually any wooden nickels that city folk tried to scam country folk; instead, it was just a humorous way to remind people to be careful as they transitioned from a simpler life in the country to living in the city.
Another source, the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, states that the phrase originated in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States.
Finally, the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins states that this phrase could be older than the other sources claim. It discusses that fice-cent pieces were first known as nickels in 1866 when they started minting coins containing the metal known as nickel. There was also a practice of making commemorative tokens as souvenirs out of wood that would be accepted as legal tender during the centennial celebration but not afterward.
According to this source, then, the expression became a popular way to say, ‘don’t be a sucker.’
Another theory is that the term ‘wooden nickel’ in reference to getting fooled has to do with another wooden object: wooden nutmegs. It’s unclear whether ‘hucksters’ in early America really made wooden nutmegs and sold them off as real nutmegs to unassuming villagers. Still, either way, the term ‘wooden nutmeg’ became synonymous with a con.
Using the Google Books Ngram viewer, we see that the phrase ‘wooden nickel’ is first used in the 1840s before falling off the map. It was used again in the 1880s and became more popular in the early 1900s. After 1920, it became much more widely used. ‘Wooden nutmeg,’ on the other hand, was much more commonly used during the 1800s and has largely fallen out of favor as a phrase in comparison to ‘wooden nickel.’
How would you use ‘don’t take any wooden nickels’ in a sentence? The phrase can be used as a lighthearted and humorous way to say ‘goodbye’ and ‘be careful out there,’ or it can be used as a more direct way to remind someone to stay on their toes and not be naive.
What are some other ways to say ‘don’t take any wooden nickels’? Let's look at some synonymous phrases:
If you’re ready to learn more idioms, phrases, and adages to spice up your writing and speech, don’t forget to check out our English idioms blog. Until then, have fun, and ‘don’t take any wooden nickels’!
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