"A buck three-eighty"

This must be an East Coast thing, because I’ve never heard it out here on the Pacific. I was first exposed to the phrase “a buck three-eighty” in Billy Joel’s song “Close to the Borderline” from the “Glass Houses” album, and I wondered what it meant.

The exact lines are:

A buck three-eighty won’t buy you much lately
On the street these days
And when you can get gas you know you can’t drive fast
Any more on the parkways

Since then, I’ve seen or heard strange monetary expressions like that in the context of mid-to-north-Atlantic Coast urbanites, and I’ve never understood what it’s supposed to mean.

Is it a transposition of the first two words, i.e. “buck three” means “three bucks,” so the whole phrase means $3.80? Or is the “eighty” an expression, and it really means $1.38? Or does it mean something else entirely? Where did it come from? Is it still commonly used? Is there a Noo Yawker or anyone else who can enlighten me?

“I’m not an actor, but I play one on TV.”

Of course my guess is as good as yours…but I took the phrase “a buck three-eighty” to mean $1.83. Perhaps?

“Free thinkers are dangerous.”~Serj

I’ve always heard the phrase “a buck-two-fifty” and I just assumed it meant a small amount of money.

How much did that cost?

Ah, a buck-two-fifty.

I could be totally wrong, though.


I don’t know that it means any specific amount. It’s just a phrase that means an indeterminate amount of money. A lot of New Yorkers use it, I think, when they don’t know an amount and don’t wanna be bothered. Seeing it in writing is not the same as having someone with a thick Bronx accent brush you off with “a buck three-eighty, pal.”

The Dave-Guy
“since my daughter’s only half-Jewish, can she go in up to her knees?” J.H. Marx

Oh wow! I didn’t know anyone else used that expression! My Dad (born and raised in NE Mass.) has been saying “A dollar three-eighty” for as long as I can remember and he claims he made it up. Or a friend of his made it up. Or maybe it was a friend of a friend… Hmmmmmm…

“For what a man had rather were true, he more readily believes” - Francis Bacon

Well, I imagine it’s not strictly an East Coast thing, as my father says “a buck three eighty-five” and he grew up in Wisconsin. And at least one of my uncles (one of his brothers) uses it also.

Perhaps it means a buck plus $3.85 (or whatever variation is used)? Or perhaps $1.385, using fractions of a cent–and thus a buck three eighty would be $1.380 and a buck two fifty would be $1.250.

nuqDaq yuch Dapol? (Where do you keep the chocolate?)

My friends and I have used variations on this before … “A buck, two fifty” … to describe a niddling amount of money.

As far as I’m aware, it’s two separate amounts (One dollar and two-and-a-half dollars) that indicate not only a miniscule and irrelevant amount of money, but the fact that the expense didn’t matter much to you.

So, like “It cost a buck, or two-fifty, or something. Whatever.”

I didn’t even make the connection between “buck three eighty” and “buck two fifty” until MilroyJ mentioned it. This thread had me baffled 'til then :slight_smile:

-An epistle most prosaic, courtesy of Calamity Jon.
Jon can be seen swinging from trees at ape-law.com

I once saw the term in a book of brain-teasers. It was a semantics trick, where “a buck two-fifty” actually meant “a buck, AND two-fifty.” That is, $3.50.

This was similar to the number “eleven thousand, eleven hundred, and eleven.” Which is written 11,211.

Uh, Eleven thousand, eleven hundred, and eleven would be 12,111, not 11,211. Am I missing something?

I just had to get in on this one…

In the Red River Valley (where Fargo is found), the phrase is known as “a buck two-ninety-eight.” Obviously, we can conclude that Fargo prices are much lower than in Billy Joel’s neighborhood.

“Write a wise saying and your name will live forever.” - Anonymous

Old Chicago area expression “a buck two ninety eight”

Chicago. High school. Mid-'70s. “A buck-three-eighty” was commonplace. As others have noted, it’s basically a brush-off, meaning “I dunno, a small amount, what’s it to ya?” As teenagers, we considered it the height of wit. As adults, we consider it the height of teenage wit.

I’ve never heard “a buck three-eighty.” Around here, we use “a nickel ninety-five” to mean the same thing, a small amount of money.


My math was right; I just made a typo. So sue me. =B^p

I’ve always used it as in “I have no clue how much but you can afford it.” And I’ve heard (in Wisconsin) a buck two-thirty and a buck two-fifty.

Like MarkMal, I’ve only heard the expression from my dad and it was always a dollar three eighty. He used it when I was a kid and he didn’t want to say how much something cost.

Just to give in my 2¢ (or 4 half-cents–hmm, forshadowing), up until the mid 1800’s there was a coint the half-cent.

So, if this is an old expression, it could have its roots in a time when three-decimal prices were commonplace.

And this is what it looks like when it has been proofread:

Just to give in my 2¢ (or 4 half-cents–hmm, foreshadowing), up until the mid 1800’s there was a coin the half-cent.
So, if this is an old expression, it could have its roots in a time when three-decimal prices were commonplace.



It’s just sophomoric wit.

Like calling someone and asking for their phone number.

It’s just a verbal equivalent of an Escher drawing. It begins one way, but ends in a contradictory way, but overall, looks like it’s supposed to go together.

The purpose is to confuse people, and I can see by this thread, it has worked. :slight_smile:

If Billy Joel is using it in some other fashion like it has a special meaning, he’s a twit (besides, he’s run out of originality long, long, long ago – uptown girl, indeed!).


Thats what a grown deer(buck) weighs. :wink: