'To eat money' is now an officially recognised English phrase – credited to Nigeria and East Africa

Business Insider SA
Piggy bank robbery
  • The phrase "to eat money" is now defined in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
  • Its meaning is the same as in South Africa: embezzlement or theft.
  • But the OED says the phrase is currently mostly in use in Nigeria, and in East Africa.
  • For more stories go to Business Insider SA.

The phrase "to eat money" has been included in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which bills itself as "the definitive record of the English language".

For South Africans who commonly refer to especially politicians "eating the money", the OED definition will ring just about right: "to acquire money dishonestly; to misappropriate, extort, or embezzle funds".

But the apparent origin may come as a surprise. According to the dictionary, the phrase is "now chiefly Nigerian English and East African".

Eating the money: Nigerian.

The phrase was included in December 2019, as part of a list of Nigerianisms, and is linked to one meaning of "chop", which the OED says is also used in Ghana and Nigeria in relation to the theft of public money.

The dictionary cites a passage from a 1849 book, Nineveh and its remains: with an account of a visit to the Chaldæan Christian of Kurdistan, and the Yezidis, or devil-worshippers, which explains that "to eat money, i.e. to get money unlawfully or by pillage, is a common expression in the East", in reference to a supposedly common order issued by a governor of the Ottoman empire: "go, destroy, eat".

A second reference, dating from 1999, is from The East African Standard newspaper.

South Africa is not mentioned, although the phrase was in documented use by 1981 and in 1983 – albeit not in the sense of stealing public money.

It has been in use in South Africa, in the now-official sense, since at least 2001.

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