In the song champaign problems, Taylor Swift sings one for the money two for the show.
The expression also appears in other artists’ songs. For example, Lana Del Rey’s Million Dollar Man and Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes.
So, by now, we understand that the expression is quite popular among American singers. But what does it mean?
One for the Money Two for the Show Meaning
You may be disappointed because the expression doesn’t really have a meaning.
Instead, it’s being used as a countdown to begin an activity with the complete rhyme: one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go.
The singers above incorporate the rhyme into their lyrics and make it their own by doing a twist for the second half of the rhyme.
Elvis Presley: Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show. Three to get ready now go, cat, go.
In Blue Suede Shoes, Elvis Presley uses the expression as a countdown for a cat to leave him and his shoes alone.
The “blue suede shoes” is a nickname for the military regulation airmen’s shoes. The singer sounds joyfully on protecting the shoes, including from the cat’s scratch or step.
Lana Del Rey: One for the money. Two for the show. I love you, honey. I’m ready, I’m ready to go.
Very differently, Million Dollar Man by Lana Del Rey uses the expression as a countdown for herself or the narrator in the song.
The singer seems to love a man so badly, and she’s saying she’s ready to go everywhere with him and do anything for him.
However, it sounds like the relationship doesn’t work in the end, so she’s ready to leave him.
Taylor Swift: One for the money, two for the show. I never was ready, so I watch you go.
Similar to Lana, Taylor Swift’s champagne problems uses the expression as a countdown for an ending of a relationship.
Though, I think this one is sadder because the relationship ended when a man just proposed to his sweetheart, but she turned it down.
As said in the song, the woman was never ready to be a bride, and it implies that she has a mental illness history.
Which one of the three is your favorite?
I personally have heard the expression for the first time in champagne problems, so I will go with Taylor Swift because I’m more familiar with her version haha.
One for the Money Two for the Show Origin
Looking at history, the earliest usage of the expression is found in the two books from 1872, Striking for the Right by Julia Arabella Eastman and The Little Corporal.
From the book, we also know that it was originally three to make ready, not three to get ready. I supposed it gets changed over time because the original does sound outdated.
There are some assumptions about how the expression is used initially.
The first assumption is that children usually say the entire rhyme when they start a race. “The money” could refer to the reward, and “the show” could refer to the spectacle of the race.
Another assumption is that kids may say the rhyme when they are about to do something collectively, such as tossing someone in the water together.
Other Instances in Literature
According to Google Ngram Viewer, many books use the phrase one for the money, specifically books published in 1952 and 2004.
The most popular book that uses the phrase is probably Janet Evanovich’s One for The Money (1994), the predecessor of the Stephanie Plum series.
The author uses the rhyme for the next titles in the series including Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, and Four to Score.
However, she doesn’t stop until four. The last book that I could find in the series is its thirtieth book titled Dirty Thirty. Brilliant.
Genuinely, this is one of the articles I have so much fun writing.
As mentioned earlier, Taylor Swift introduced me to the expression one for the money two for the show.
Now, doing a deep dive into its history and usage in other instances makes me more impressed with language. How did a rhyme from the 1800s make it to a pop star’s song in 2020?