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Spondulix is 19th-century slang for money or cash, more specifically a reasonable amount of spending money. Spondulicks, spondoolicks, spondulacks, spondulics, and spondoolics are alternative spellings, and spondoolies is a modern variant.


There are two views on the origin of the word. The most likely is from the Greek spondulox which is a type of shell. The Spondylus shell was used as neolithic jewellery and also an early form of money.[1]

There may also be a connection with spondylo- which means spine or vertebrae, based on the similarity between a stack of coins and a spine. This is referenced in an 1867 book by John Mitchell Bonnell[2] and quotes etymologist Michael Quinion's correspondence with a Doug Wilson linking the spine to piled coins. Thus: "Spondulics - coin piled for counting..."


The interior of two fossil valves of Spondylus from the Pliocene of Cyprus.

There is global evidence of the importance of the spondylus shell. Archaeological evidence[3] shows that people in Europe were trading the shells as jewellery as long as 5,000 years ago. Spondylus shells from the Aegean Sea were harvested and then worked into bracelets, bangles and ornaments and transported throughout the continent. It is thought that the shells were also traded as an early form of currency due to their mother-of-pearl like appearance.

Early written use[edit]

The earliest recorded occurrence of the word appears to have been in the late 19th century in the United States. The New Oxford Dictionary of English marks the origin as US slang. However, according to the Cassell Dictionary of Slang,[4] the slang can be traced back to the mid-1800s in England.

The July 1852 edition of the Water-Cure Journal includes "Gossip from Indiana" by "a Hoosier" which complains about "spending our spondulix." [5]

In 1855's Meister Karl's Sketch-Book, Charles Godfrey Leland includes it in a long list of synonyms for money: " . . . the magic spell of the ready—otherwise known as money, cash, tin, stuff, rhino, root-of-all-evil, blunt, wherewhital, rowdy, funds, stumpy, pecuniary, dibs, hard, browns, heavy, mopusses, slugs, shiners, lucre, or 'the filthy,' dust, gelt, chips, lumps, chinkers, mint-drops, pewter, brass, horsenails, rocks, brads, spondulix, needful, dough, spoons, buttons, dimes, or the infallible . . ." [6]

The spelling "spondulicks" appeared in an 1858 edition of Hutchings' Illustrated California Magazine:[7] "Steve, if the Court recollects herself, then you come up with the spondulicks, and Bill Bresse tuck down Lem's pile."

Spondulix is also used by 19th century American author Bret Harte in his 1891 story, A Sappho of Green Springs: "MR. EDITOR, — I see you have got my poetry in. But I don't see the spondulix that oughter follow." [8]

Mentioned in the short story Ivy day in the committee room, in the book dubliners by James Joyce.


  1. ^ The United States Service Magazine, vol 3. June, 1865. p. 539. "A Word About Slang." "'Spondulix' is suggestive. It recalls the wampum of the poor Indian, the cowrie of the Ethiopian, and resuscitates the ancient blackmail man, who, as his kinsman, the dun, does today, called upon his victim to 'shell out.' For 'Spondulix' is conchological. The spondylus (from Greek spondulos,) is a shell inequivalve . . ."
  2. ^ John Mutchell Bonnell, A Manual of the Art of Prose Composition: for the Use of Colleges and Schools, J.P. Morton and Co. (1867)
  3. ^ for example, see Archaeology in Bulgaria, 2007-2009 by Ivo D. Cholakov & Krastyu Chulakev, published in the American Journal of Archaeology (2011)
  4. ^ Cassell Dictionary of Slang, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2000)
  5. ^ Water-Cure Journal vol. 14, July 1852, Fowlers & Wells
  6. ^ Meister Karl's Sketch-book p. 166, Charles Godfrey Leland, 1855.
  7. ^ Hutchings' Illustrated California Magazine, volume 3
  8. ^ Harte, Bret, "ARGONAUT EDITION" OF THE WORKS OF BRET HARTE: "A Sappho of Green Springs, The Four Guardians of Lagrange, Peter Schroeder" (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1903) 14.