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June 14, 2007

Slang of the Week: tapped out (verb phrase) 
out of money/resources or exhausted

Sookey wanted to expand her maple sugaring business, but after two bad seasons, she was tapped out.

Celebrity quote:
“I'm here with my non-shellfish eating friend. I gotta tell you something, I'm tapped out. This guy won't listen to reason.”
- Tony Soprano

This past Sunday marked the end of the HBO hit series The Sopranos, which had been on the air since 1999. The show followed the lives of anxiety-ridden New Jersey gangster Tony Soprano and his “coworkers” as they made money from their “waste disposal” business and whacked their criminal rivals.

While most fans assumed that Tony would buy the farm (die) in the last episode, creator David Chase left Soprano’s fate a mystery by ending the story abruptly. Many fans were enraged not to find out what happened, but more were probably irritated because they’d placed bets on when and how Tony would be killed and could not collect their money.

The quote above comes from the first season of the show. A reportedly abusive husband is seeking ownership of a family hotel in his divorce settlement and the man’s father-in-law (a Hasidic rabbi) asks Tony to threaten him until he gives up the claim. When the man doesn’t respond to a beating, Tony calls his Jewish associate, Hesh Rabkin, to ask for advice.

So what’s the advice? Rabkin tells him if the son-in-law isn’t afraid to die, Tony should offer to “finish his bris.” In other words, he should threaten to emasculate the man (the bris is the Jewish circumcision ritual). Since the surgical instrument Tony proposes to use for this amputation is a pair of bolt cutters (ouch!) the hotel stays in the family after all.

By the way, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang says tapped out comes from the tap you make on the table to let other players know you don’t have any more money. It would be more poetic if it came from sugar maple trees, as in my example above, but apparently Vermont has not had as much of an impact on money slang as Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: A historical survey of gangster slang in Eric Partridge's  A Dictionary of the Underworld. Yes, at $150, it is about ten times the price of most books we recommend, but it’s a fun one. If you need advice on how to easily acquire the money to buy it, I recommend watching The Sopranos. To get you started, here’s the first season on DVD.