In Dana Gioia's poem about money, what does "Greenbacks, double eagles, megabucks and Ginnie Maes" mean?

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beateach | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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In the third stanza of Dana Gioia’s poem “Money,” the author lists a number of terms relating to currency.

To be made of it! To have it

to burn! Greenbacks, double eagles,

megabucks and Ginnie Maes.

The first term he mentions is “greenbacks,” which were a form of legal tender put in place by the United States government in order to finance the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln made a number of attempts to finance the war through taxation before the greenbacks were instituted. The currency was minted in different denominations, and printed with bright green ink, fancy scrolls and emblems in an effort to reduce counterfeiting. Based on the predominant color on the back of the money, they came to be known as “greenbacks.” In more contemporary slang, the term refers to U.S. paper currency.

The term “double eagles” refers to gold coins minted in the United States between 1850 to 1933. At the time, each coin was worth $20.00. Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered Americans to surrender their gold coins for which they were paid face value. For each “double eagle” they turned in, they received $20.00. Today, the coins are rare and worth much more than face value.

“Megabucks” is a term that carries the connotation of having massive amounts of money. In contemporary society, the term is often associated with lotteries in which the prize is an exorbitant amount in comparison to the cost of a ticket. These lotteries are generally run by states or groups of states to offset their operating budget.

Finally, the term “Ginnie Maes” is a reference to mortgages issued by the Government National Mortgage Association (GNMA). This government owned corporation provides financial support to housing programs which are initiated by the federal government. Therefore, in this case the author is referring to the ability to gain money in the form of a mortgage.

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linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The poem in which these terms appears is titled "Money" and begins with a quotation from Wallace Stevens: "Money is a kind of poetry."

Each one of the terms you've asked about is used to refer to money:

Greenbacks originally referred to paper currency issued in 1861 to help pay for the Civil War. They were so green that people started calling them "greenbacks." Today, the term is used to mean any US paper money.

Double eagles are $20 US gold coins. They are called double eagles because the $10 coin is called an "eagle." The double eagle today is very valuable because it is rare.

Megabucks refers to having lots and lots of money.

Ginnie Mae is an acronym--GNMA--for the Government National Mortgage Association, which provides guarantees on mortgage-backed securities.

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