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Reading this article, there is a line,

The coronavirus could still be contained, Hotez claimed, but that would require “leadership at the federal level, and there was never an interest or curiosity for the federal government to lead this,” a reference to Trump’s passing of the buck to governors

Would that mean simply the money, US dollar(1)?

If so, why wouldn't it be the plural form but the singular?

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    @Fattie No. You are mistaken. "Passing of the buck" is perfectly idiomatic. – Eddie Kal Aug 9 at 15:12
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    @Fattie Just some random googling:"Let me remove from the record, if I may, my reference to previous discussions this afternoon which seemed to me to involve the passing of the buck, because I am out of order on that." --W. Willard Wirtz at a senate hearing. "There will be hearings in D.C. and a passing of the buck" --Fiona Maazel A lot more where they came from. We do say "passing of the buck". Without "of" it also works. – Eddie Kal Aug 9 at 16:17
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    @Fattie disagreements over whether something is idiomatic is definitely not the point of comments. They're for clarifying and improving the question. What you posted should be an answer or not posted at all. – Kat Aug 9 at 16:55
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    I think "passing of the buck" is itself just a small ostentatious formalization of "passing the buck"... – paul garrett Aug 9 at 17:35
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    @Fattie I to some extent agree with your claim about the usage of the legit way of speaking "passing the buck" since even if you(I) had researched carefully, in the dictionary, you would find the definition. But let the buck stop here since the comment line is not for answer. Thank you^^. – Kentaro Aug 9 at 19:55
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It doesn't mean "dollar", and it is only remotely related to money. It's an idiom meaning to avoid responsibility.
Here, it means that Trump is avoiding responsibility by claiming the governors are at fault.

This site details the etymology of the expression:
Etymonline "buck"
"The phrase pass the buck is recorded in the literal sense 1865, American English poker slang; the buck in question being originally perhaps a buckhorn-handled knife

The 'buck' is any inanimate object, usually [a] knife or pencil, which is thrown into a jack pot and temporarily taken by the winner of the pot. Whenever the deal reaches the holder of the 'buck', a new jack pot must be made. [J.W. Keller, "Draw Poker," 1887]

The figurative sense of "shift responsibility" is first recorded 1912; the phrase the buck stops here (1952) is associated with U.S. President Harry Truman."

There's also a Wikipedia article
Wikipedia "buck passing"
which agrees about the etymology.

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  • Hm...thank you for the link. Though I don't understand why the writer mentioned about the male deer, still, buck --> (inanimated) stuff --> "passing" of the "buck" --> to mean "shift responsibility" is quite plausible. Thank you. – Kentaro Aug 8 at 14:56
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    The eymonline article about "buck" was about all the meanings of the word, not just the idiom in question. In any case, you're welcome. – Jack O'Flaherty Aug 8 at 15:01
  • huh, still a good answer with the etymology anyway^^. – Kentaro Aug 8 at 15:02
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    Here's a photo of Truman at his desk with his "Buck Stops Here" sign. – BruceWayne Aug 9 at 2:50
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    @Kentaro , just to clear it up, "pass the buck" simply means "avoid responsibility". (There is no relationship at all to "bucks" as in "dollars".) Regarding the origin of the phrase "pass the buck", nobody is totally sure, so I wouldn't worry about it. It is "just an idiom". – Fattie Aug 9 at 13:52
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It's a rarer but well-attested form of the idiom "to pass the buck", which means "to refuse to take responsibility".

Prior answers went into detail about the etymology, so I'll ignore that and focus on the many uses of "the buck". In general, "the buck" means responsibility, particularly an unpleasant responsibility that you'd rather avoid. Refusing to take that responsibility, and handing the obligation to someone else, is "passing" the buck. This is a negative description; passing the buck is never or almost never considered a good thing.

As a noun, there are a couple different forms. "buck-passing" is a name for the general phenomenon; you might say that "Everyone in the State House has been inventing fascinating new forms of buck-passing this week", meaning that there was a problem or problems which no one in the state government wanted to take responsibility for, and many of them had spent the week vigorously trying to make it someone else's problem. If you want to describe a specific instance where someone passed the buck, that would be "a buck-passing" or "a passing of the buck", as in the excerpt you quoted above. For example, David Cameron, former PM of the UK, was not particularly known for buck-passing, but his political career ended with a passing of the buck on Brexit. He didn't want to deal with the conflict it created in his party and nation, and so he resigned and left the issue for his successor. This version is the one being used in your quote; "Trump's passing of the buck" means "a passing of the buck, which is Trump's".

The other main buck idiom is "the buck stops here", which means that someone is ultimately responsible for all decisions of some kind. 'Here' is not used in a literal sense; President Truman had a nameplate in the Oval Office which said "The Buck Stops Here", but here meant "with him", not "in the Oval Office", i.e. anything the US government did was ultimately his responsibility (wherever he happened to be at that moment).

It can also be substituted with 'there', or any figurative location. For example, if you worked for a tech company which took security seriously, you might say "for network architecture, the buck stops with the Chief Security Officer", meaning that even the CEO was forbidden from overruling them. It can even be a literal location used figuratively; Americans might say "the buck stops at the White House" to mean the same thing as Truman said. (Though as the news excerpt you quoted implies, that doesn't seem to be true at the moment.)

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  • Thank you @JackBeQuik. Actually, as far as I remember(sorry to say such a thing, but I already forgot what triggered me to ask this question.) why I asked this queston may have arisen by the way of the use "passing of". I actually discovered the definition actually in the dictionary I quoted, but I had to scroll all the way down to reach to it. But thank you for you shedding me a new light on the usage of this word. – Kentaro Aug 9 at 19:33

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