Short answer: Dollars are likely referred to as “bucks” because deerskins (aka buckskin) were a common medium of exchange before the U.S. dollar was introduced.
Like many others words, the etymology of this word isn’t 100% clear, but strong evidence suggests that a dollar is called a “buck” thanks to the deer. A male deer is referred to as a buck.
Before a common medium of exchange (U.S. dollar) existed for buying and selling goods, people would trade deer, chickens, gold, wood, and anything else that people had a need for. For example, I might have traded someone 30 chickens for 40 rabbits if I needed the rabbits more than the chickens. The downside is I’d have to find someone who wanted to trade chickens for rabbits. You can see how this would turn into a cumbersome task. This is how people bought and sold things for thousands of years.
An early example of a buck being used in trade was in 1748. A cask of whiskey was traded for “5 bucks,” referring to 5 deerskins. This was 44 years before the U.S. dollar came into existence.
Another example occurred in 1748. While traveling through what is now present-day Ohio, Conrad Weiser wrote down that someone was “robbed of the value of 300 Bucks.”
Using bucks for trade didn’t start with these two examples, but it’s interesting to see it in writing.
There is also evidence that a single buck didn’t always refer to a single deerskin. For instance, deerskins from deer killed in the winter were generally superior to those killed in the summer, due to their fur being thicker. The highest deerskins would be assigned one value while lower quality deerskins were assigned another. The actual value would be set at the time of trading. Skins from other animals were used for trade as well. The number of skins required to equal a buck varied from animal to animal. For example, nine high-quality beaver skins might have equaled one lower quality deerskin.
The practice of using animals skins as a medium of exchange would eventually die off once the U.S. dollar was introduced in 1792, but the term “buck” has stood the test of time.
What other words do you use to describe money? Do you know why you do?