Date: Mon, 12 Jan 1998 11:42:25 -0500


Subject: change of a ten

I *thought* that expression sounded familiar, though not quite what I think would roll right off

my tongue today, and Greg

Downing pinpointed the origin of it for me:

I've heard it fairly often in NYC, where "change for/of a dollar" came up commonly on buses

throughout the 70s, 80s and

early-to-mid 90s due to the requirement to pay the fare in exact change using coins only (one

doesn't hear it so much

now that people have started to pay the fare with a dip-card). I always imagined the

"for"-construction emphasized the

exchange aspect of making change, and the "of"-construction stated a more vague relationship

between a ten and

whatever you could (ex)change it for.

"I *vas* dere, Sharley", and I remember the situation; and I'll hesitantly suggest an alternative

explanation for the

difference between "of" and "for" here. Normally you ask "Do you have change for an

X(-coin/bill)?" when you are

paying someone an amount, y, that is considerably less than (the value of an) X. The intended

recipient need not have

$X in smaller units to be able to answer "yes" and give you your change, only $(X - y). But on the

bus you are not

asking the driver, who cannot give you change, but other passengers; and you are asking if they

can give you exactly

$X in appropriate smaller units so that you can give the driver y (leaving you with X - y).* And

that may be the

difference that the change in preposition was meant to capture: "Can you give me X in change, in

EXchange for an X?",

rather than "Can you give me the difference between X and the value of my purchase, in exchange

for an X and my


* Nit-pickers' note: You might well be asking the passengers for a different X than you would be

asking the driver for if

he could make change: e.g., if fare = $1.20 and you have only bills and quarters.

Mark A. Mandel : Senior Linguist : mark[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 965-5200

320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02160, USA :

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