I'm reading The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham (4th edition) and there is one sentence that I just don't get:

... Ben’s father died in 1903, the porcelain business faltered, and the family slid haltingly into poverty. Ben’s mother turned their home into a boardinghouse; then, borrowing money to trade stocks “on margin,” she was wiped out in the crash of 1907. For the rest of his life, Ben would recall the humiliation of cashing a check for his mother and hearing the bank teller ask, “Is Dorothy Grossbaum good for five dollars?”

The only thing I know is that Dorothy Grossbaum is Benjamin's mother. Could you be so kind and translate the whole sentence to simple English?

  • "The only thing I know is that Dorothy Grossbaum is Benjamin's mother." You should know a bit more than that from the information in the preceding sentences. In particular, Ms Grossbaum was impoverished and widowed, to things that should help you understand the statement in question. – Mark Beadles Dec 31 '18 at 22:15

In this context, good refers to being able to pay (and then actually paying) an amount that one promised to pay.

Cheques can be considered a promise to pay the stated amount (in this case, $5).

The bank teller was asking whether Dorothy Grossbaum had enough money in her bank account so that when the cheque was presented, the $5 would be paid out.

Ben remembered that he was embarrassed at the situation.

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    I don't see why "asking whether Dorothy Grossbaum had enough money in her bank account" would be humiliating. I believe she did not have enough money in her account (something a teller would be able to tell without asking anyone) and the teller was asking the manager whether to give her the money anyway. – michael.hor257k Dec 31 '18 at 8:24
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    I am afraid you're completely misunderstanding the situation here. Mrs. Grossbaum needs 5 dollars in cash. Mrs. Grossbaum writes out a check to herself and sends her son to cash it. Mrs. Grossbaum does not have 5 dollars in her account. The teller asks the manager whether to allow Mrs. Grossbaum an overdraft of 5 dollars. It would make absolutely no sense for the teller to ask a child anything, least of all about his confidence in his own mother. It would make absolutely no sense for a teller to ask whether a check would bounce, when he's the one deciding whether to bounce it or not. – michael.hor257k Dec 31 '18 at 9:12
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    @michael.hor257k: If you think that, in 1907, a teller would have been able to instantly figure out how much was in Dorothy Grossbaum's account without informing anyone (by computer?), you really need to read up on the history of technology. – Peter Shor Dec 31 '18 at 15:03
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    @michael.hor257k: And I also expect that you are investing much too much authority in bank tellers if you think they could decide whether to allow an overdraft. Wouldn't that decision have been made by a bank manager? – Peter Shor Dec 31 '18 at 15:19
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    @PeterShor I have the advantage of having actually worked with banks before they had computers. They had books - and the teller would open the book and see the balance. And I find your second comment especially puzzling, since that's exactly what I have been saying: the teller asked the manager whether to allow the overdraft. There would have not, and could have not been any other reason to ask if Dorothy Grossbaum is good for five dollars. – michael.hor257k Dec 31 '18 at 16:32

It means:

Can Dorothy Grossbaum be trusted enough to lend her five dollars?

(One would assume from the context that she is cashing her own check and that her account is overdrawn.)

a. Able to pay or contribute: Is she good for the money that you lent her?
b. Able to elicit a specified reaction: He is always good for a laugh.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

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    No. It means: does Dorothy Grossbaum have $5 in her account? In 1907, how would the teller have known how much was in Dorothy Grossbaum's account without asking somebody to go to the bank ledgers, look at them, and find out how much money was in her account? It's possible that for some banks, the protocol would have let the tellers access the ledgers themselves, but do you know that was the case for all banks. – Peter Shor Dec 31 '18 at 15:22
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    @PeterShor I think I have already answered this in my comment above. Let me just add that if the teller were inquiring about the account's balance, the question would not have been phrased as “Is Dorothy Grossbaum good for five dollars?” (since those would be her 5 dollars) and there would have be no reason for the son to feel humiliated. And most importantly, there would be no point in telling the story at all. – michael.hor257k Dec 31 '18 at 16:40

As in the above line, it is clearly mentioned that "Ben would recall the humiliation". Here the word "humiliation" can be related to the cash teller's comment that is "is Dorothy Grossbaum good for five dollars?" due to which Ben felt humiliated, as the cash teller was commenting on their subjugation.

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