Q From Eva Gustafsson, Sweden: In Sweden you used to say cry all the way to the bank when you did something bad but, but still you made some money from it as a consolation. I have noticed that people are now using the English expression translated to Swedish. What does the English expression mean?
A The English phrase means pretty much what you’ve said: that you are making money undeservedly at the expense of others; another version is laugh all the way to the bank. It often refers to a sportsman who loses a match, or to a show-business person who gives a poor performance, but who still cynically collects a thumping fee.
The phrase is often credited to that flamboyant and camp American pianist Liberace, he of the candelabra, extraordinary costumes and piano-shaped swimming pool. It became a catchphrase for him and he is often quoted as originating it. The first four examples in the Oxford English Dictionary all refer to him, the first being from the Daily Mirror of 26 September 1956: “On the occasion in New York at a concert in Madison Square Garden when he had the greatest reception of his life and the critics slayed him mercilessly, Liberace said: ‘The take was terrific but the critics killed me. My brother George cried all the way to the bank.’ ” Later, he was quoted as saying “Remember that bank I cried all the way to? I bought it.”
Sadly, for what survives of Liberace’s reputation, it looks very much as though he borrowed an existing expression. It appeared, to give one example, in the Waterloo Daily Courier of Iowa on 3 September 1946: “Eddie Walker perhaps is the wealthiest fight manager in the game ... The other night when his man Belloise lost, Eddie had the miseries ... He felt so terrible, he cried all the way to the bank!”