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Belane, he said, you're into me for $475, I can't take your action. You've got to clean the slate first. I've got a 25 buck bet, that will make half-a-string. If I lose I'll cough it all up, my mother's honor.

What does half-a-string mean in that dialogue?

A dialogue from pulp novel from Charles Bukowski.

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  • Are there multiple speakers in that quote? The way you wrote it, it looks like one person says all of it. But it would make more sense if one person said "You've got to clean the slate first" and then another person said "I've got a 25 buck bet, that will make half-a-string." Feb 11 '20 at 23:44
  • Yes, two persons are speaking over the telephone.
    – ako
    Feb 12 '20 at 7:39
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The conversation is conducted in American English slang, and is about a $25 bet - which is refused because "you're into me for $475" - ie., you owe me $475. If the bet were taken, that would add up to a total debt of $500 - half-a-string, so "a string" is $1000.

This does not seem to be a term in wide use. Perhaps the author coined it, or maybe its popularity has been limited in time, location or social class.

There are many, many slang terms for various sums of money in British and American English. A more common term for $1000 (or £1000) would be "a grand". A pony (£25) or a monkey (£500) are rarely used these days, except perhaps by writers trying to inject a little atmosphere into their pages.

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  • Doesn't he mean that if he win the bet he win half a string?
    – ako
    Feb 11 '20 at 18:42
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    @ako The phrase "that will make half a string" means "the total will be half a string." In other words, his current amount of debt is $475, and he wants to bet $25, so if he loses, the total amount of debt he will be in will be $500. Feb 13 '20 at 2:14
  • Hi ako - I think Tanner's (and my) interpretation is correct, though I am not an expert on illicit gambling! But it's difficult to understand the phrases "into me for $475"; "clean the slate first"; "If I lose I'll cough it all up" other than the way we interpret the dialogue.
    – Ian
    Feb 13 '20 at 11:48

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