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The meaning and origin of the expression: The buck stops here

The buck stops here

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'The buck stops here'?

The slogan 'The buck stops here' is a promise that responsibility will not be passed on to anyone else.

What's the origin of the phrase 'The buck stops here'?

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'The buck stops here'U.S. president Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk with 'The buck stops here' inscribed on it.

This was meant to indicate that he didn't 'pass the buck' to anyone else but accepted personal responsibility for the way the country was governed.

Truman didn't originate the phrase, although it isn't likely that we would ever have heard of it had he not adopted it.

Fred M. Canfil, United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri and a friend of Truman's, saw a sign like it while visiting the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma in 1945. He thought it would appeal to the plain-speaking Truman and arranged for a copy of it to be made and sent to him. It was seen on the President's desk on and off throughout the rest of his presidency.

On the reverse side, that is, the side that Truman saw, it was inscribed, "I'm from Missouri". That's a short form of "I'm from Missouri. Show me". Natives of that state (a.k.a. the Show Me State), which included Truman, were known for their skeptical nature.

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'The buck stops here' The meaning and origin of the phrase 'The buck stops here'

It is highly likely that the original of the sign that Canfil saw was the one on the desk of retired army officer Colonel A. B. Warfield, or a copy of it. In 1931, Warfield was quartermaster supply officer and general superintendent of the US Army Transport Service of the New York General Army Depot.

The bucks stops hereDuring WWII, Warfield was commandant of the Lathrop Holding and Reconsignment depot at Stockton, California and he had such a sign on his desk and was photograph with it in October 1942 for a story in the Reno Evening Gazette. He may have used the sign as early as 1931 but, as the photo makes evident, his use of the phrase clearly pre-dates Truman's.

See also: the List of Proverbs.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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