When I first heard the song It’s All About the Benjamins by Puff Daddy and friends, I wasn’t exactly sure what he was talking about. This was back in 1997, though, when American slang wasn’t quite as widespread as it is now. These days, I’m quite aware that benjamin* refers to a US $100 note, because of the portrait of former president and inventor Benjamin Franklin. It’s more commonly used in hip-hop circles than everyday English, and has been mentioned on film (2002 film All About the Benjamins) and TV. Puff Daddy (aka P Diddy, aka Sean Combs) has been credited with the first use of this term. He even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary:
The OED lists him (as S. Combs) as the first citation (1994) for the word in the line “My pockets swell to the rim with Benjamins.” (from A.Word.A.Day.)
Benjamin* has also been used for many years in some European cultures to mean the youngest person in a family or group. “The benjamin of the family”, “le benjamin de la famille” (French), “el benjamin de la familia” (Spanish), and “der Benjamin der Familie” (German) all mean the youngest child of a family. It’s an older term that refers to the biblical Benjamin, who was the youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons.
*A word that is derived from the name of a particular person is called an eponym.