The expression “money for old rope” means getting money for little effort, similar to “money for jam”. John Lennon uses the expression in “Gimme Some Truth”:
No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of hope
Money for dope
Money for rope
It is a common explanation that the expression dates from the days of sailing ships when old ropes were used, with tar, to fill the gaps between the boards. This was known as caulking. But is that explanation correct? As word expert The Phrase Finder puts it, in the words of an old joke, “I’m a frayed knot.” The P F points out that yes, old ropes were used for caulking but the expression didn’t appear in print until 1936 when sailing ships had long gone. Furthermore it is not recorded in any books of sailors’ slang and nautical terms of the sailing ship days and sailors wouldn’t have received extra money for caulking, it was part of their work for which they were already being paid.
More than likely, the two phrase – money for old rope and money for jam – originated around WW1 in the British Army, when jam was so common in the Army diet that it was considered worthless, the same as old rope.
Whilst looking at expressions, the proverb “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” means that you can make plans for people but their own mindset will determine what they do. It was first recorded in 1175 and has the distinction of being the oldest proverb still in regular use.
Author and wit Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) was once challenged by fellow columnist and wit Franklin Adams to put the word “horticulture” in a sentence and make it humorous. She responded with “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think."
Two other quick Dorothy Parker items:
Whilst on her honeymoon, her editor sent a telegram reminding her of a pending deadline for material. She is said to have responded “Tell him I’ve been too fucking busy, or vice versa.”
I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table,
after four I’m under my host.