Thursday, June 7, 2012

Paper or Plastic

Paper or plastic? Wallet or Billfold? 

“I forgot my billfold,” I quietly commented to the teen age girl who was bagging my groceries. I was tapping my pockets, checking for any sign of the familiar shape and size of the keeper of my cash and cards.

“What?” she asked with a slightly irritated look on her face. She seemed distant and a little confused – not quite in the moment, if you know what mean.

“My billfold,” I repeated. “I might have left it in the car.”

“I have no idea what you are saying,” she shot back. 

I felt as though I was speaking a foreign language. As though I had been transported to a market in Bangladesh trying to find a familiar word in someone else’s native tongue.

“My billfold,” I repeated a third time. Then quickly added: “My wallet—I don’t have it.”

“Oh,” she said, as if a translator had shown up and negotiated a truce between us. “I’ve never heard that word before.”  

I was stunned. Irritated. Embarrassed. But mostly bewildered.

We  negotiated the end of the sale.  I went home (it wasn’t in the car) and returned and finished the transaction with the same employees a few minutes later.  This time, when I said I had my "wallet and/or billfold," for the benefit of the young  employee and to ease my own embarrassment somewhat, the woman checking out in front of me said something about knowing what BOTH words mean, and around here we say, ‘wallet’  but she knows what a ‘billfold’ is, because, and I quote: “I’m old.” Her words, not mine.

 So what is it?  Wallet? Or billfold?  Is it a regional term? A generational one? Do they mean the same thing?
The phrase “paper or plastic” is well known amongst us American shoppers.  But what about “billfold or wallet?”  “Will you be taking that debit card from your billfold or wallet, sir?”

Next time, I send the wife… and her purse.

Or is it handbag? Pocketbook?

I need a translator!

wal·let  noun

a flat, folding pocketbook, especially one large enough to hold paper money, credit cards, driver's license, etc., and sometimes having a compartment for coins.


Chiefly British . a bag for carrying food, clothing, toilet articles, etc., during a journey; knapsack or rucksack.

1350–1400; Middle English
walet < ?

bill·fold   noun

a thin, flat, folding case, often of leather, for carrying paper money in the pocket and with fewer compartments than a wallet.


wallet ( def. 1 ) .

Americanism ; bill1 + fold1

1 comment:

  1. Why not just get a money clip and be done with it. We still call it money right?