Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

This morning, I was linked to an article about a $290 designer paper lunch bag. The most disturbing part of this article was not the mere existence of such a product, because anybody can offer anything for any price they’d like. The truly frightening part of this story is that apparently, the manufacturer has already sold out of them. Who on Earth buys these things? Well, people with “fuck you money”, of course.

What is “Fuck you money”, anyways?

Although the OED was quite unhelpful in the matter, a Metafilter thread (discussed again below) offered Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon” as an early source of the word, offering the below, publicly available excerpt as an early example of the term’s use:

“We look for places where the math is right. Meaning what? Meaning that pop. is about to explode—we can predict that just by looking at age histogram—and per capita income is about to take off the way it did in Nippon, Taiwan, Singapore. Multiply those two things together and you get the kind of exponential growth that should get us all into fuck-you money before we turn forty.”

However, that offers usage, but not definition. To me, saying that a person has “fuck you money” does not just mean that they’re wealthy, or even that they’re extremely wealthy. For me, “Fuck you money” implies somebody so rich that they’ve lost all perspective on money. Their spending, then, to the less-wealthy world, seems like a big “fuck you”. For example, I might say something like:

“John spent $3500 on bottle service last night? That’s insane!”
“He probably didn’t even notice, he’s got fuck you money.”

This “extreme degree of wealth” definition seems to be shared by many on the internet, and, in fact, is the first definition given by UrbanDictionary:

Any amount of money allowing infinite perpetuation of wealth necessary to maintain a desired lifestyle without needing employment or assistance from anyone.

However, in my mind, not every super-rich person, at least in my mind, has “fuck you money”, as it’s as much an attitude as a bank balance. This is why UrbanDictionary’s second definition really resonated with me:

Enough money to be able to say fuck you to anybody on the planet.

This definition seems to be shared by many. This post on Quora offers a similar “money do be able to do anything” definition for the term, as does this straight dope thread, this blog post, and this anecdote from the Naked Entrepreneur. But a few more threads is not a consensus.

Rich in definitions

So, clearly, there’s a debate as to the true definition. A bit more googling linked me to a Metafilter thread from 2006 which attempts to quantify the amount of money needed to have “fuck you money”, in which people spend considerable time going back and forth between the “permanent comfort” and “ability to do what one wishes” definitions:

This is terribly subjective, as the definition of fuck-you money is variable from person-to-person. “Wealth necessary to maintain a desired lifestyle.” That’s two totally different amounts to, say, Gordon Gekko and an Amish farmer.

… the concept of “fuck-you money” is less about having enough money to get by for the rest of your life comfortably, but more about having enough money to do what you want, when you want, with no worries.

I guess everybody’s definition of “fuck you money” is much different. I calculated mine to be under $20,000 and I saved it in about five months. Then I quit my job and started this.

Unfortunately, the one place I know of where you might expect people with fuck you money to chime in, the EnronSent Database of Enron Corporate Emails offers 19 instances of “fuck you”, but no usage of “fuck you money”.

So, it appears that there’s considerable debate about the “true” meaning of the term, and that there’s no easy answer as to what “fuck you money” really means. If you have an opinion (or another definition), please feel free to share it in the comments section, because, unfortunately, as an academic, a few google searches is likely as close as I’ll ever get to “fuck you money”.

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