More Bang for Your Buck

The phrase means “more value for your money,” and it has a more political origin than you might expect.

It all starts in the 1950’s with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense, Charles Erwin Wilson. He used the word “bang” quite literally as a reference to nuclear weapons because the new New Look security policy called for greater reliance on nuclear weapons.  In this context, Wilson used the phrase as “more bombs for your money”. The U.S. Military wanted to use more weaponry power and the phrase “bigger bang for your buck” could hardly be a better summation.


Charles E. Wilson and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Arthur W. Radford observing a controlled explosion.

Thanks to the phrase’s catchy alliteration, it stuck around. But it did lose its political connotation as time passed on, moving instead toward the meaning that we know and love today.

The first transcribed account of “bang for the buck” appeared in New Language of Politics in 1968, where the author William Safire recounts Wilson’s invention of the phrase.

The earlier equivalent of “more bang for your buck” was Pepsi’s 1950 slogan “more bounce to the ounce”.




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Why You Should Care About the Great Alfred Vance


The word OK has a mixed up, confusing and downright misleading history. Over the years it has held plenty of different meanings. It started as an abbreviation of the play on words “oll korrect” and became a political joke connected to Martin van Buren during the 1840 election, leading to a number of playful (and sometimes not-so-playful) plays on words.

For more details on the history of the word, see this article by Mental Floss.

The Great Alfred Vance, known to his friends as family by his proper name Alfred Peek Stevens, is a little-remembered figure born in 1839. But he’s responsible for the origins of two different modern word usages in the English language.


Vance loved performing, and his musical comedy acts wowed the crowds. Vance had a great rival in George Leybourne, also a musical performer, who wrote the famous song “Champagne Charlie”. The two were commonly compared to each other thanks to their similar careers in “lion comique”; for example, they both sang songs praising the different types of alcoholic drinks. The rumor goes that Vance ended their rivalry with the song “Beautiful Beer”.

Vance’s song song “Walking in the Zoo” achieved the normalization of two different words: the word “okay” and the word “zoo”.

“Okay” was already in use at the time, of course, but Vance made the first recorded use with today’s meaning with the line “The okay thing on Sunday is walking in the Zoo.” This was the first recorded use of “okay” as the adjectival “good”.

Vance also created the word “zoo”. Previously, zoos had been called “zoological garden” – a bit of a mouthful even in 19th century lingo.

Let’s take a moment to thank The Great Alfred Vance for changing the way we use “okay”, and also making sure we don’t get tongue tied when we visit a zoo.

The walking in the Zoo, walking in the Zoo
The okay thing on Sunday is walking in the Zoo
Walking in the Zoo, walking in the Zoo
The okay thing on Sunday is walking in the Zoo.

Vance never stopped performing. He died while performing on the Sun Music Hall stage in 1888.


Why We “Face the Music”

If you refuse to accept any unpleasant consequences of your actions, you may be told to “face the music,” whether you like it or not.

The origin of this idiom is a little blurry. How do you come to “face” something you can’t see?

One theory suggests that the phrase has a military history. When disgraced soldiers were kicked out of their regiment, drummers would allegedly play them out through their final march. Other references say that these soldiers had to sit on their horses backwards, forcing them to face and hear the drums, therefore “facing the music”.

This is not the only theory however, and it’s far from being historically proven.

Another story claims an origin with music in church. The organ often sat in the balcony in the back of a church; this was before electric blowers made the billows louder. So to better hear the music, the congregation turned around to face the music to hear it better.

Perhaps the Victor-Victrola record player, as described by this vintage advertisement, will help you literally face the music.

Perhaps the Victor-Victrola record player, as described by this vintage advertisement, will help you literally face the music.

Yet another tale suggests the phrase comes from theater, where a new, nervous performer would have to face the judging eyes of the audience and the orchestra pit despite any apprehensions.

Let’s turn to more solid evidence. The first printed appearances come from New Hampshire. The New-Hampshire Statesman and State Journal August 2 1834 edition contains this line: “Will the editor of the Courier explain this black affair. We want no equivocation – ‘face the music’ this time.”

The National Era has an excerpt of dialogue with an abolitionist senator, Mr. Hale: “Mr. FOOTE – As the Senator from New Hampshire is an aspirant himself, what does he think a candidate ought to do? Mr. HALE – (with promptitude and humor) Why, stand up and face the music.”

1850 brought an explosion of “face the music” usage (perhaps accounting for a great number of people with guilty consciences) and it was brought into regular use.

So what we do know is that “face the music” came into common use mid-1800s. As for the true origin of the phrase, well, that may never be fully proved.

Where Does the Phrase “Backseat Driver” Come From?

Where does the idiom “backseat driver” come from?

The phrase itself today means to give unwanted or critical advice from the sidelines, usually giving directions from the back of a car to a driver.

The literal backseat drivers from the days of yore may have had something to do with this saying. Firemen used to use long “articulated ladder trucks” with both front and back steering to help the truck turn with control.

However, there’s no known negative association with driving in the back of these trucks.file000715699119

According to this source, one of the first known appearances of the phrase occurred in 1914 in the Daily Kennebec Journal:

“When New York pitcher Vernon Gomez retires as a smokeballer he wants to become a smoke eater. Here he gets a tryout as a back-seat driver on a hook and ladder truck at St. Petersburg…”

That also has a more literal meaning, but here’s a line from 1921 explaining the meaning we’re more familiar with today:

“A back-seat driver is the pest who sits on the rear cushions of a motor car and tells the driver what to do. He issues a lot of instructions, gives a lot of advice, offers no end of criticism. And doesn’t do a bit of work.”

Harsh, but that’s the way it is.

The idiom “armchair quarterback” has a similar meaning, referring to a sports fan who shouts advice at a sports player from the sidelines or in front of the TV during a game.

Of course, those newfangled “robot cars” will someday eliminate any need for a backseat driver, as this 1950s magazine article explains: