Jewish World Review August 19, 2004 / 2 Elul, 5764

Jeff Elder

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Clams and cabbage and dollars; method actor v. character actor; more | Q: Is there another word for $ besides "dollar sign"? - Lillian Lieberman, New York

A: Well Lillian, you could call it "what Jeff ain't got."

Folks seem to just call it "the dollar sign." There is some dispute over the sign's origin. Maybe other names for the sign have been lost in the confusion.

Some claim the $ was a result of "U.S." being combined on coins. Others say $ comes from a P and an S being superimposed on a peso.

But the best studies we found trace the $ to pieces of eight, the large silver Spanish dollars early Americans often used before our country began minting its own coins in 1792.

The pieces of eight featured two pillars. These vertical lines over an 8 could have formed the $. And some Spanish coins from the era show the pillars wrapped by a ribbon forming an "S" curve.

Pieces of eight are where we get the term "two bits," by the way. To make change, you could chop the coin into eight pie-shaped pieces called bits (or Spanish reals), worth 12.5 cents. Two bits were worth a quarter of a dollar.

During my research I stumbled across these slang terms for money, some still in use: Bacon (as in bring home), bread, dough (one term for counterfeit money was sourdough), cabbage, lettuce, kale, folding green, long green, rhino, jack (perhaps from jackpot), mazuma, moolah, oscar, pap, plaster, rivets, scratch, spondulicks, ace, bean (as in bean counter), boffo (abbreviation of box office, referring to money collected at theaters), bone, bullet, case note, clam, coconut, fish, frogskin, lizard, peso, rock, brass, scrip, simoleon, cheddar, shrapnel, dead presidents and yellowbacks.

And I still ain't got none.

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Q: What's a "method actor"? What's a "character actor"? Can you give me examples of both? - Denise, Charlotte, N.C.

A: Denise, let me throw out a couple of mental images.

Robert DeNiro is a method actor. Burgess Meredith is a character actor.

The "method" is Constantin Stanislavsky's psychological system of building a character, spelled out in the classic book "An Actor Prepares" and famously taught at New York's Actors Studio.

This approach holds that an actor's main responsibility is to be believable and authentic. To achieve this, the actor must deeply study a character and script, and apply his own emotional experiences to them.

Famous products of the Actors Studio are Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Marilyn Monroe, Sidney Poitier, James Dean and Meryl Streep. But you can see this approach in the work of many other talented actors.

A character actor can be a method actor. They are by no means mutually exclusive. The term "character actor" is often applied to someone who is physically distinctive, rather than a romantic lead. Meredith, terrific as the trainer in "Rocky," would not have been believable in the lead. Not at that stage of his career, anyway.

Yet character actors often make the difference in whether a movie or play works. It's hard to imagine "Cool Hand Luke" without George Kennedy, for instance.

Kathy Bates, one of the great actresses around, is thought of as a character actress. But no one would suggest that she's less talented than a younger leading lady.

Spencer Tracy, one of my favorite actors, was once asked the secret of his craft. He's said to have responded, "Remember your lines and don't bump into the furniture."

Don't you believe it. If it were that easy, Keanu Reeves wouldn't need special effects.

SOURCES: "The Dollar Story, Its European Origins," by Rafael Castillo,,



On Africa:

1. Who went from political prisoner to South African president in four years?

2. About how many independent countries are there in Africa and on the islands off its coasts? a) About 10 b) About 20 c) About 30 d) About 50 e) About 100.

3. Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations, is from what country?

4. What 1937 memoir by Isak Dinesen chronicled her love for Kenya and its people?

5. Traditionally worn in ceremonies in many African countries, these pieces of facial wear are now featured in museums all over the world for their ability to capture the human spirit.



1. Nelson Mandela

2. The answer is d) About 50

3. Ghana.

4. "Out of Africa"

5. Masks

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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here. If you send him a great question, he'll send you a Glad You Asked T-shirt.


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