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I'm reading an article that talks about Yankee English and it quotes the following paragraph written by Thomas Chandler Haliburton:

"...you are a careless kind of a man that way, and let your shillin’s desart oftener than they had ought to. But what would I have been, had I been so stravagant? and as to passin’ bad money, I see no harm in it, if you have given valy for it, and received it above boord handsum, in the regular way of swap, trade, or sale."

In this quote, "above boord handsum" sounds like "above board handsome" to me. But this doesn't seem to make sense. What does "above board handsome" mean? Is he saying this or somehing else? Can anybody give me some ideas?

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Above board is usually written aboveboard these days and means "straightforward, honest". The metaphor is drawn from cardplay and means that you hold your cards in clear sight, above the table, rather than hidden under the tabletop where you might be manipulating them.

Handsome had in the nineteenth century a wider sense than it does today: it could mean "generous" (a 'handsome' price) or, as here, "even-handed, just"—note that a synonym for handsome, fair, still has that meaning.

So the speaker is saying that you're not to be blamed for passing counterfeit money if you yourself received it in a good-faith business transaction.

  • @Peter There's no reason for you to delete your answer--the substance is the same, and your formulation may be more intelligible than mine. – StoneyB Jan 23 '16 at 16:45
  • Very kind of you, operative word there is maybe :) – Peter Jan 23 '16 at 18:42
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    "Above board is usually written aboveboard these days" I think that might be another one to put on the list of differences between American and British English. I (British speaker) have never seen "above board" written as one word and it seems that American dictionaries tend to list it as a single word; British ones as two. – David Richerby Jan 23 '16 at 21:23
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In you quote from Thomas Chandler Halliburton's The Clockmaker the narrator is talking about using bad money or specifically passing on counterfeit money.

His argument is that if he was given bad money for something of real value (given valy for it) the counterfeit money should actually be considered good money especially if the transition was

above boord handsum
above board handsome

above board means honest or legitimate
handsome means appropriate or fitting

the phrase means an appropriate and honest (transaction)

Haliburton goes on to relay a story to illustrate how he thinks about this problem as long as the transaction was "honest" in nature, the money should be "honest" also even if it is counterfeit.

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    "Handsome" implies more than appropriate. If I pay you an appropriate amount for an item, that means I paid a fair price. If I pay you handsomely for it, that strongly implies that I paid you a rather generous amount, either because the item is worth more to me than to most people, or because I feel you should be rewarded for something. – David Richerby Jan 23 '16 at 21:26
  • @DavidRicherby +1 Quite right, my bad for turning handsome into the adverb. Well spotted. Cheers mate – Peter Jan 23 '16 at 21:48
  • But doesn't the same objection apply to the adjective? "An appropriate amount" is a fair price; "a handsome amount" is a generous price. – David Richerby Jan 23 '16 at 21:49
  • a handsome (appropriate) location for a school here – Peter Jan 23 '16 at 21:52
  • Handsome can also be generous or attractive in amount. Possibly either meaning could be used, however the context seems to point to appropriate since cheating in the passage is defined by selling something of no value. Either way it doesn't seem to change the central tenet of treating counterfeit money. – Peter Jan 23 '16 at 22:14

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