british money history, money slang expressions and origins, cockney money slang and other money slang words and meanings
|Slang money words and expressions
appear widely in the English language, and most of these slang words have
interesting, often very amusing, meanings and origins.
Many slang expressions for old English money and modern British money (technically now called Pounds Sterling) originated in London, being such a vast and diverse centre of commerce and population.
While sources of British money slang vary widely, London cockney rhyming slang features particularly strongly in money slang words and their origins.
Before looking at money slang and definitions it is helpful and interesting to know a little of British (mainly English) money history, as most of the money slang pre-dates decimalisation in 1971, and some money slang origins are many hundreds of years old.
The history of money and its terminology, formal and slang, is fascinating - the language was and remains full of character, and although much has been lost, much still survives in the money slang words and expressions of today.
If you don't need the money history and just want money slang word meanings or origins go to:
See the note below about the use of the term 'British money'.
Spelling note: Please note that UK/US-English spellings of words such as colour/color and decimalise/decimalize vary and mostly UK-English spellings appear in this article.
The origins of slang money expressions provide amusing and sometimes very significant examples of the way that language develops, and how it connects to changing society, demographics, political and economic systems, and culture.
Money, and its amazing aspects of culture, design, society, history, language, finance, science, manufacture, technology, diversity, etc., (money connects to virtually anything) provide endless opportunities for teaching and training activities, etc. See for example the money exercise on the team games and activities page. The innovatively styled designs of the new 2008 British coins will provide plenty more opportunities to have fun with money, quite aside from earning it and spending it.
Here are the remarkable new British coin designs, first revealed by the Royal Mint on 2 April 2008.
The designs make more sense, and the concept becomes more interesting, when you see the coins in 'shield' formation. They will keep pub drunks amused for hours..
Featuring different parts of the Shield of the Royal Arms, the design was chosen via a public competition, attracting more than 4,000 entries.
This is the biggest design change in British coins for over forty years, and the first time ever that a design has been spread cunningly over a range of coins.
The coins entered circulation starting Summer 2008 and you could and perhaps still can buy a lovely commemorative set for less than a tenner including postage direct from the Royal Mint. And no, I am not on commission, which is a pity because the Royal Mint's top of the range set is 22 carat gold and costs an eye-watering £4,790 - yes that's four thousand, seven-hundred and ninety pounds.
Whoever said that 'money makes money' was not lying. I like the thought that at least a few sets bought by unhealthily wealthy people will be plundered by their naughty children and spent at the local sweetshop.
In the publicity for these new coin designs the Royal Mint included a reassuring note that the new coins will join about 27 billion existing coins in circulation, including 800 million featuring Britannia. This indicates the sensitivity attached to changes such as these, not least the ridiculous media-stoked nationalist outrage and indignation at the anticipated loss of Britannia from our coinage. God help us all if the country ever has anything serious to get worked up about.
The front of the coins (the 'front' according to the Mint, although what makes it the front and not the back?...) will continue to show the existing portrait of the Queen, and the the £2 coin remains unchanged, which is a bit weird since the £2 pound coin is made in many different designs already so it's puzzling to exclude it from such an inclusive and interesting theme.
Fascinating also is the clearly implicit commitment for the next several years at least to persist minting the increasingly pointless 1p and 2p coins, which since about 1995 even small children have been throwing away in the street when given them in change. My guess is that you could power a biggish town for a year on all the wasted time and effort that is consumed needlessly handling and processing these coppers. (The slang term coppers derives from pre-decimalisation days when pennies and ha'pennies were more substantial and popular copper coins. Since 1992 'copper' coins are copper-plated steel.)
Whatever, the winning entry belongs to 26 year-old graphic designer Matthew Dent, upon whose success Angela Eagle MP (Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury) is quoted as suggesting that his designs "...will be seen and used by millions of people across the United Kingdom." Ms Eagle (or more likely her PR person) wins the April 2008 award for stating the bleeding obvious...
Well done Matthew. Where do you go from there? Perhaps redesign Africa, or the night sky, or a Freeview set-top box which lasts more than three weeks.
According to the Royal Mint the Royal Arms has featured in one form or another on UK coinage through almost every monarch's reign since Edward III (1327-77). The Royal Arms is divided into four parts: England represented by the lions in the first and fourth quarters, the Scottish lion 'rampant' in the second, and the harp of Ireland in the third, with all four quarters spread over the six coins from the 1p to the 50p. The £1 coin features the entire Royal Arms Shield. The designer Matthew Dent is from Bangor in Wales, which ironically is not represented on the shield.
Three free original (gold, limited edition) businessballs juggling balls awaits the first person to send me a picture of themselves or a rich friend holding (kissing, caressing, okay too) one of the five-grand 22 carat coin sets...
Old English money, and more recent pre-decimalisation money, with its language and slang, was infinitely more interesting and colourful than anything contributed by modern coinage and banknotes. (Here is a summary of the money changes surrounding and after decimalisation.) So, this section is partly a glossary of British cockney and slang money words and expressions, and also an observation of how language can be affected as systems such as currency and coinage change over time.
Incidentally the term 'Pounds Sterling' - the modern name of the British currency system - can be traced back to the reign of Henry II, ie., the 12th century. The derivation of the Sterling word is almost certainly from the use of 'Easterling Silver' (the metal itself and the techniques for refining it) which took its name from the Easterling area of Germany. The Easterling area was noted for its 92.5% pure, hard and high quality coin-grade silver. It was also noted for its expertise in silver refining, and it was these techniques as well as the silver itself that Henry II imported when he arranged for the production of 'Tealbay Pennies', which formed the basis of the silver coinage quality standard established at the time. The pennies were not known as 'Tealbay' in the 12th century, they subsequently acquired the name because a hoard of the coins was found at Tealby, Lincolnshire in 1807. A contributing theme was the theory that the hallmark for what became known as Sterling Silver featured a starling bird, which many believe became distorted through misinterpretation into 'sterling'.
pounds, shillings and pennies
Prior to decimalisation in 1971, British currency was represented by the old English 'Pounds, Shillings and Pence' or 'LSD', which derives from ancient Latin terms.
The 'L' denoted the £ pound-sign; strangely 'D' or 'd' denoted the pence, and coincidentally 'S' denoted shillings. Shilling was actually not the origin of the S. The £ and L symbols were derived from Latin term 'libra', like the Zodiac sign of the weighing scales, and literally from 'libra' (also shown as 'librae') the Latin word meaning a pound weight, from Middle English (weight, as you will see, related closely to monetary value). The penny 'D' in LSD, and also lower case 'd' more commonly used when pence alone were shown, was from 'Denarius' (also shown as 'denari' or 'denarii'), a small and probably the most common silver Roman coin, which loosely equated to one day's pay for a labourer. S of course was associated with shilling but originally derived from the Roman coin 'Solidus' (prior to 1387 in English translations shown as 'Solidy', and also shown more recently in English as 'Solidi' and 'Solidii', being Latin plural versions). The Solidus was originally an Imperial Roman coin introduced by Constantine (c.274-337AD), so called from the full Latin 'solidus nummus', meaning solid coin. The symbols of the pre-decimal British money therefore had origins dating back almost two thousand years. (See lots more fascinating Latin terms which have survived into modern English.)
The development of coinage and money systems was a very gradual process lasting many hundreds of years. Weights and coinage standards were directly linked because coins were valued according to their metal content. 'Token-based' money - like today's, in which value is not dependent on the metal content - did not begin to appear until the 19th century.
This basic form of pounds shillings pence currency was certainly in use by the 9th century. At that time the minting of coins was not centrally controlled activity. Coins were produced on a local, regional and independent basis, closely linked to the trades and traders who used them. It was to take many hundreds of years before coin production and values were to be unified into a consistent national standard. Moreover, the introduction of the first pound coin - the gold sovereign - was still more than half a century away. Still, the Pounds Shillings Pence structure, ie twelve pennies to a shilling, and twenty shillings to a pound was established by the end of the first millennium.
The word 'Penny' is derived from old Germanic language. The root gave similar 'Penny' names across Europe, originally meaning a coin or money, for example Old High German pfenning (and recently pre-Euro 'pfennig'), and Danish 'penge'. The oldest English forms, pre 725, were penig and pening. Penny is therefore a very old word indeed. By the early 12th century an English Penny was a firmly established solid silver coin worth one-twelfth of a shilling, and incredibly silver pennies continued in production, although sizes and purities changed, until c.1820, when copper pennies superceded them, forming the early beginnings of modern 'token' money (ie., like today's money, in that the value of the coin is not based on the value of the metal content).
The word Shilling has similar origins. In around 900 the word was 'scilling', and coins were close to solid silver. The word is from Old High German 'skilling' which was their equivalent for a higher value coin than the German pfenning. Similar words and meanings again are found all over Europe. The original derivation was either from Proto-Germanic 'skell' meaning to sound or ring, or Indo-European 'skell' split or divide. Some think the root might be from Proto-Germanic 'skeld', meaning shield. Whatever; shilling is another extremely old word.
Pounds value and Pounds weight were closely linked in various forms during the middle ages as weight and monetary systems developed. The use of the word Pound as a unit of English money was first recorded over a thousand years ago - around 975. Then it was most commonly interpreted to weigh twelve ounces, like the earlier Roman version of this weight. It would then have been written as 'punde', changing to 'pound' by around 1280. The word 'pound' is originally derived from the Latin 'pondos' (the word for the Roman twelve ounce weight), which related to the meaning of hanging a weight on scales to weigh or value something, from which root we also have the word 'pendant'. The Roman 'pondos' effectively led to the earliest formally controlled English weight, first called the Saxon Pound, subsequently known as the Tower Pound, so called because the 'control' example (the 'old mint' pound) was kept in the Tower of London. The twelve ounce Tower Pound weighed 5400 grains (1 grain = 0.065 grams) and in the early state controlled minting of money, this weight of silver was coined into 240 pence or 20 shillings. This weight standard also became known as Troy, which system was adopted as the legal standard for gold and silver in 1527. During the 12th century, at the time when the English monetary system was being more unified and centrally controlled, the Troy systems of weight and money were inextricably related: ie., a Troy Pound = 12 Troy ounces = 240 'Pennyweight'. A 'Pennyweight' was the weight of a Sterling Silver penny.
The Troy weight system dated back to the end of the first millennium. The name is from the city of Troyes in France, which was an important trading city in the Middle Ages.
A Troy ounce is about 10% heavier than the more conventional and modern 'Avoirdupois' ounce, ie., 480 grains (31.1g) versus 437.5 grains (28.3g), whereas a Troy pound (12 Troy ounces) is about 17.5% lighter than the Avoirdupois Pound (16 Avoirdupois ounces), ie., 5760 grains (c.373g) versus 7000 grains (c.453.59 g). This explains the trick question: Why does an ounce of gold weigh more than an ounce of feathers, yet a pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold?... Troy was the weight and payment system for precious metals and gems, whereas Avoirdupois was used for commodities.
In medieval Europe several different versions of Pounds weights and therefore values were used for different commodities for which they were traded. The Merchants Pound, weighed 6750 grains, and was established by about 1270 for all commodities except gold, silver and medicines, but by about 1330 this was generally superseded by the 16 ounce (7000 grains) pound weight of recent centuries, known as the Avoirdupois Pound. An alternative Merchants Pound was confusingly also in use during this time, introduced from France and Germany, and weighed 7200 grains. The 'control' standard twelve ounce pound Troy, along with the 'control' 36 inch yard, were later held (from c.1758) at the Houses of Parliament until they were lost in the fire of 1834. In 1838 a commission was appointed to consider matters, and following the report in 1841 the 16 ounce Avoirdupois Pound finally replaced the pound Troy as the overall standard. Today a platinum cylinder 'control' version of the 16 ounce Avoirdupois Pound exists at the London Standards Office, in the custody of the Board of Trade. Copies were and presumably still are also held at the Houses of Parliament, the Royal Mint, the Royal Observatory and the Royal Society.
The first and original one pound coin was in fact the gold Sovereign, which came into existence in 1489. The name Sovereign derived from the coin's majestic appearance and design, which showed the King Henry VII seated on a throne, with the Royal coat of arms, shield and Tudor rose on the reverse. It weighed 15.55 grams and comprised 23 carat gold, equal to 95.83% pure. The Pound had been a unit of currency in various forms for centuries but the gold Sovereign was the first coin issued with that value. Not surprisingly the value of Sovereign coins, as circulating currency, and as collector items, increased somewhat over time. Nevertheless, the slang word 'Sovs' meaning pounds is still in use today and derives directly from this very old coin.
The old 'Guinea' was for the last years of its existence equal to twenty-one shillings, but it was originally a gold coin worth twenty shillings, whose value was based on the value of the gold content when it was first issued in 1663, when it effectively replaced the Sovereign. Its value (the shillings and pennies it was worth) changed over time - as did the values of early Sovereigns and Pound coins during the 15-19th centuries. The value of the Guinea actually reached thirty shillings during the 1690s. This seems a strange concept today, but the logic was sensible for the times when the values of coins were based on their precious metal content, which in turn was largely due to people's mistrust of the Government (what's new?...). This basis of valuation, together with the spasmodic approach to the issuing of new weights standards and coins (many decades could pass between changes and coinage issues) - and the effect of the deterioration of the quality (and effective reduction in metal content) of coins in circulation, created completely different effects on coin values compared with the system of fixed values that apply today.
The shifting basis of coin values is how the Guinea came to have a value of twenty-one shillings. And, although the last one was minted in 1813, many traditional auction houses were, up until decimalisation in 1971, still trading in Guineas (notionally that is, since there were no coins or notes worth a Guinea in circulation). This was remarkable loyalty to the Guinea given that essentially it was replaced in the currency by the Sovereign in 1817. Incidentally the Guinea is so-called because it was mostly minted from gold which came from Guinea in Africa.
Using coins whose values were so closely connected to the value of the precious metal content also led to some strange and amusing practices, notably around the 13th and 14th centuries: coins would be 'clipped' by the unscrupulous because the clippings would of course be valuable (which eventually led to coins being designed and minted with rims and milled edges); coins would be transported to Europe, melted and alloyed with other metals, re-made into pennies and shipped back to England; and coins would be cut into halves or quarters to make 'change'.
Coins were the only form of money up until 1633, when the first 'banknote', actually a goldsmith's note, was issued. The earliest known cheque was issued in 1659. In Britain paper money did not effectively supersede metal coins until the early 1900s. The direct cause was that the Royal Mint had to cease production of the gold Sovereign during the 1st World War because Britain needed the gold bullion to finance the war. Soon after, banknotes entered normal circulation, and the gold sovereign ceased to be used.
The language of British money significantly changed when the 'Pounds shilling pence' money gave way to decimalised currency in 1971. Decimalisation gave us 100 'new pence' or 'p' to the pound, which format exists today.
Sadly we lost from our language many of the lovely words below for pre-decimalisation money, and which had been in use for many hundreds of years. Mostly in return we got the 'Pee' (being the official pronunciation of the abbreviation: p for new pence.) Where once there were florins, half-crowns, shillings, pennies, bobs, tanners, thrupenny bits, we now have just 'pee', which is a bit of a shame.
Maybe one day they'll decimalise and rename all the trees and flowers, so we'll not need to remember anything other than all the trees are 'tee' and all the flowers are 'eff'...
A pound comprised twenty Shillings, commonly called 'bob', which was a lovely old slang word. It was 'bob' irrespective of how many shillings there were: no-one ever said 'fifteen bobs' - this would have been said as 'fifteen bob'. The origin of the word 'bob' meaning Shilling is not known for sure, although the usage certainly dates back to the late 1700s. My favourite is suggested in Brewer's 1870 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable in that 'bob' could be derived from 'Bawbee', which was 16-19th century slang for a half-penny, in turn derived from: French 'bas billon', meaning debased copper money (coins were commonly cut to make change); and/or the Laird of Sillabawby, a 16th century mintmaster. Perhaps there is also a connection with the church or bell-ringing since 'bob' meant a set of changes rung on the bells. This would be consistent with one of the possible origins and associations of the root of the word Shilling, (from Proto-Germanic 'skell' meaning to sound or ring). There is perhaps a connection with a plumb-bob; (the association with another heavy piece of metal), made of lead and used to mark a vertical position in certain trades, notably masons. Separately (thanks SH) it is suggested that the 'bob' slang for shilling derives from Robert Walpole, Privy Councillor and 'Paymaster of the Force', who paid the 'King's shilling' to army recruits, although Walpole's early 1700s timing somewhat predates first recoded late 1700s usage of the slang itself.
'Bob a nob', in the early 1800s meant 'a shilling a head', when estimating costs of meals, etc. In the 18th century 'bobstick' was a shillings-worth of gin. In parts of the US 'bob' was slang used for the US dollar coin.
I was reminded (thanks D Burt) of the British cubs and scouts 'Bob-a-Job' week fundraising tradition of the mid 1900s, in which many tens of thousands of young boys, every Easter for one week, would go door-knocking at homes and businesses in their local communities, offering to carry out menial tasks in return for a contribution nominally of a 'bob' (one shilling). After decimalisation the scheme was renamed (Scout Job Week, or somesuch bland alternative) and eventually more recently dropped altogether due to increasing concerns about the safety of so many young boys wandering the streets offering their services to complete strangers for money, although I am not aware of any actually falling prey to murderers or paedophiles at the time.
I was also reminded incidentally (thanks C Lawrence) that the word shilling of course survives in Scottish culture within the names of many traditional Scottish beers (ales not lagers); specifically the designations 60/- 70/- 80/- and 90/- (meaning 60 shilling, etc), still used by most brewers in identifying and branding ales of different strengths. These designations, which are included in the names of the ales (for example, Caledonian 80/- or Belhaven 90/-), were based on the different levels of tax incurred by different strengths (alcoholic content) of the brews. The higher the strength of the ale, the higher the shilling rating.
Up until 1961 a Penny could be split into four Farthings (a Farthing equates to one nine-hundred-and-sixtieth of a pound - yes 960 of them to a pound), and, until later in the 1960s, there were also two Halfpennies to a Penny, more commonly pronounced 'hayp'nies', and spelt variously, for example; 'ha'pennies' or 'hayp'neys'. Pennies, Halfpennies and Farthings were copper coins in recent centuries, and so collectively logically they were were known as 'coppers'. For example, 'Lend us a bob for a pint mate'.... 'Sorry all I've got left is a few coppers...' (And yes, comfortably within baby-boomer living memory, it was possible to buy a pint of beer for a shilling...)
The lyrical shortening slang style of 'Ha'penny' (pronounced hayp'ney, or by Londoners, 'ayp'ney', using a glottal stop at the start of the word and instead of the 'p'-sound) extended to expressions of numbers of pennies and half-pennies, for example the delightful 'tuppenny-ha'penny', (in other words, two-pennies and a half-penny). This was pronounced 'tupp'ny-hay'pney' or the true cockney pronunciation with dropped 'h' - 'tup'ney'ayp'ney'. There was no 'tuppenny-ha'penny' coin - it was simply a common expression of value, and also a cliche description for anything that was rather too cheap to be of serviceable quality. I am additionally reminded (thanks Vivienne) of the highly lyrical and commonly spoken amounts: 'three ha'pence', 'three ha'pennies', and 'a penny-ha'penny' - all referring to one-and-a-half pennies (1½d) - for which again no single coin existed, but it was a sum commonly paid for small purchases in shops such as kids' sweets, and fruit and vegetables, etc. Other examples of the lyrical language of small change were: thrup'ny-ha'penny, forp'ny, fivep'ny, (meaning three, four and five penny) and so on. Thrup'ny would also have been pronounced and written 'threp'ny' or 'thre'penny' which was slightly posher. The children's nursery rhyme 'Pop goes the weasel' features the line' 'Half a pound of tuppenny rice, half a pound of treacle...'
I hardly need comment on the relative poetic quality of the new money version: 'Half a pound of two-pee rice...' (And don't ask about the origins of 'Pop goes the weasel', or we'll be here all year..)
On the subject of music I am informed (ack JA) that the song 'Magic Bus' by The Who contains the words '..thruppence and sixpence each day... just to get to my baby...' which provides some indication of the values of those coins, and of bus-fares, in the 1960s.
And I'm also reminded (ack a different JA) that 'keep your hand on yer ha'penny' (or 'keep yer 'and on yer 'apney', when the expression was used in London) was a common warning issued by parents and elders in the mid-1900s to young girls before going out to meet up with boys. According to Cassells, ha'penny in this sense is linked to 'ninepence', being the equivalent slang term from the late 1800s, although there is no clue as to why nine was the magic number.
Prices in pennies were shown with the 'D' or 'd', which changed to 'P' or 'p' with the decimal currency. There was a very popular ice-lolly range (by Walls or Lyons-Maid probably) in the 1960s actually called '3D', because that's exactly what each one cost. Sky-Rays and Zooms - ice-lollies with space rocket designs - were were for the more fashion-conscious and rich kids at around 6d each, but that's another story..
Prices in shillings and pennies were commonly shown as, for example, 12/6d (twelve shillings and sixpence), or spoken as 'twelve and six'.
I received helpful clarification (thanks G Box) that back in the 1930s and 1940s, the customary way in Gravesend, Kent (and presumably elsewhere nationally too) to express spoken values including farthings was, for example, 'one and eleven three' - meaning one shilling, eleven pence and three farthings. Similarly, a price of 'nineteen and eleven three' was a farthing short of a pound - nineteen shillings, eleven pence, and three farthings.
I shall now digress because this is interesting and amazing: As late as the early 1960s, children could buy four (very non-pc - since the wrapper carried a picture of a black boy's face) 'blackjack' chews, or 'fruit salads', each one individually wrapped and utterly delicious, for a single penny. With a pound you could probably have bought the entire blackjack and fruit salad stock of the shop, since this would have translated into nine-hundred-and-sixty individually wrapped chew sweets. A strange quirk (circa 1962-64) meant that despite the price being four-for-a-penny it was impossible to buy just a single blackjack or fruit salad chew because the farthing coin was withdrawn in 1961.
And digressing further, my Dad remembers circa 1945 being able to buy big sticky currant buns costing one penny each - that's one two-hundred-and-fortieth of a pound each. A pound would have bought 240 sticky currant buns. Cigarettes were one shilling - a bob - for a pack of twenty, in fact the cheaper brands in vending machines had a ha'penny change in each pack because they only cost elevenpence-hayp'ney. So a pound would have bought twenty packets of 20 cigarettes. Of course wages were a lot lower too. At the end of the war, 1945, a national service conscript soldier's pay was around four shillings a day, or twenty-eight bob a week. Around 1950 a bank clerk earned about five pounds a week, so perhaps spending a fifth of your weekly wages on 240 sticky penny buns would not have made particularly good sense..
I received these recollections (thanks Ted from Scotland, Feb 2008) from the late 1920s to early 1940s, which provide further useful information about old money and the language surrounding it: "... As I remember, we always refered to threepenny pieces and florins as bits, 'thrupny bit' and 'two bob bit'... from a time when 4 shillings was on a par with the dollar and 2/- equal to 25 cents. We certainly called the silver thrupny a Joey; we used to get them in the Christmas pudding. My pocket money went up from two pence a week to three pence with the introduction of the brass thrupny bit. Five shillings was generally refered to as a dollar, and the half crown was invariably half a dollar. I think pre-war when I was a boy there were four dollars to the pound, before the pound was devalued. The one pound note was a greenback, and the fiver was a legal document on white paper and virtually unknown to the masses. In 1942 I started work as a Post Office messenger (telegraph boy) for 18/- (eighteen shillings) a week and for this I worked an eight hour day, six days a week with a forty-minute lunch break, a day a month annual leave - that's twelve working days a year. And if I was required to work Sunday or overtime, I had to do it or possibly lose my job. I seem to remember that my dad who was a postman was getting £2/10 (two pound ten shillings) a week at that time. How times have changed in 65 years..." (Thanks Ted from Scotland)
Here's an interesting thing - This is an extract from some old accounts I found in our house (which used to be a farmhouse) a few years ago. It shows the cost of things in 1943.
A common variation of the 'penny' usage was the expression of 'two-penn'eth' or 'six-penn'eth', etc. Meaning, and derived from, 'pennies-worth' . For example, 'Six penn'eth of apples mate...' (as in 'please give me six pennies worth of apples...'). The terminology survives today in the cliche 'to put in your two-penneth' (some say three-penneth or six-penneth instead, or alternatively forp'nyha'pny-worth, which I heard very recently), meaning to give your own view or opinion on a particular matter.
Not surprisingly the expressions 'put your two-pee-worth in' and '(any amount of)-pee-worth (of anything)' have yet to make an impact on the language.
A wonderful nickel-brass twelve-sided three-penny coin called the Threepence ('Thrupence' or 'Thrupenny bit') was phased out - to the nation's huge disapproval - just prior to decimalisation. Rarely has a coin been so well-loved. The chunky thrupenny bit replaced an earlier silver threepence coin (see 'joey' below) which although withdrawn many years prior, was still occasionally turning up in change into the 1960s because it was so similar to the sixpence, (which is described next). Now how exciting would that have been? Rather more exciting than the prospect of an incredibly boring 'ten-pee' coin turning up in your tool-shed because it is so similar to an old metal washer...
Up until decimalisation there was a six penny coin, called the Sixpence, commonly called the 'Tanner', (a slang word), which was also a well liked coin, particularly by children because it was typical pocket money and sweet shop tender. The detail of the likely Romany gypsy origins of the word Tanner is given in the list of money slang words below. Incredibly these sixpenny coins were minted in virtually solid silver up until 1920, and even then were reduced to a thumping 50% silver content, until 1947, when silver was replaced by 75% copper/25% nickel. Tanners were beautiful too. Small and sparkly, and commonly added to Christmas puddings. Their modern equivalent is.... well there is none. Theoretically it would be the 'two-and-a-half-pee'.
Again up until decimalisation there was a two shilling coin, less commonly known as a Florin, which was not a slang word. Arguably the florin, introduced 1849, was Britain's first decimal coin, since there were ten to the pound (thanks to Alan Tuthill, amongst others, for pointing out this irony). The word Florin derives from an early 14th century Florentine coin, called a Floren, so called because the coin featured a lily flower. Floren is derived from Old French and Latin words from flower. Beautiful. So, we lost 'two shillings', 'two bob' or 'florin' and gained ....... the 'ten-pee'.
Then there was the Half-Crown (two-shillings-and-sixpence) logically so called because it was half the value of a Crown. Half-crowns were beautiful, heavy and silver (literally silver prior to 1920, like the Sixpence) and were made obsolete by decimalisation in 1971 - they then equated to twelve-and-a-half-pee, which might seem obscure, but it was an eighth of a pound. Strangely, prices were expressed as 'Half-a Crown' or 'Two-and-six(p'nce), whereas the coin itself was called a Half Crown, not half-a-crown, nor a two-and-sixp'nce.
The Crown (five shillings) incidentally was originally called the Crown of the Double Rose, and was introduced by Henry VIII in his monetary reform of 1526. The first Crowns were gold, changing to silver - big chunky silver discs - in the 1550s. It is puzzling that a Crown equating to five shillings was issued in gold when a smaller gold sovereign coin already existed worth five times as much. Perhaps that's why they changed it to silver after just a few years. Crowns were phased out in normal currency in the early 1900s but continued to be issued as Commemorative Crowns until 1981 during which time they technically remained legal tender (modern value 25p). Coins of the same size are still minted for commemorative reasons and now have a face value of Five Pounds, although like Crowns during the 1900s they never enter normal circulation.
As already indicated, the Florin and Shilling coins were not withdrawn at decimalisation - they just changed names to 10p ('ten pee)' and 5p ('five pee'). Which provides the opportunity to pursue this point of interest: pre-decimalisation, pennies ware called 'pennies' or pence (actually usually pronounced 'pnce' with the numerical prefix as to how many 'pnce' there were), as in a 'sixpenny chocolate bar', or 'here's your tuppence change..' However, after decimalisation, pennies were distinctly referred to by the establishment and treasury PR machine as 'new pence', and awfully abbreviated to 'p' (pee) or 'new p'. The words 'penny' and 'pennies' sadly disappeared from the language overnight. It seemed daft to me at the time and still seems daft now. Even today no-one calls their pence or 'pee' Pennies. Tuppence, thruppence, sixpence, all were lost too. Most awful of all, we lost the simple and elegant 'a penny', and substituted it with 'one pence' or 'one pee'. The change to 'pee' did little to enrich the language. Of all the wonderful words that could have been used in naming the new decimal coinage - and some clever dick decides on 'p'. How imaginative.
I was reminded (ack S Shipley) that interestingly the decimal 1p and 2p coins were and are (for as long presumably as they remain in circulation) free from any reference to the 'p' abbreviation, and free from any suggestion that 1p should be called 'one pence'. The 1p coins carry the words 'one penny', and the 2p coins carry the words 'two pence', so we cannot blame the coins themselves, just the unimaginative way they were introduced.
All silver coins - Half Crowns, Florins, Shillings - were, like sixpences, also minted in very high silver content until 1920 until some bright spark at the Treasury realised that the scrap value of the precious metal contained in the coin was overtaking the face value of the coin. Needless to say pre-1920s silver coins became something of a rarity once the word got around. As with 'coppers' being the collective term for copper pennies, ha'pennies, etc., so 'silver' became and remains a collective term for the silver (coloured) coins. Interestingly modern British 'silver' coins are still copper-base and nickel coated, whereas the 'coppers' are actually now (since 1992) copper coated steel, replacing the bronze composition (97% copper, 2.5% zinc, 0.5% tin) in use from 1971 decimalisation, since to make high-copper-content low face value coins would create another opportunity for the scrap converters.
As mentioned, at decimalisation the two shillings and one shilling coins continued in circulation because they precisely translated into the new 10p and 5p values. All other coins were withdrawn since they failed to correlate. Interestingly new 10p and 5p coins were actually introduced into circulation in 1968, three years prior to decimalisation, up until which time they were used as two shillings and one shilling coins. The 5p and 10p coins were reduced in size respectively in 1990 and 1993, the 5p coin actually becoming so small and puny as to be easily confused with the tiny discs that fall out of a hole punch.
Interestingly, harking back to weight, which was significant in the origins of currency, I was reminded (thanks D Powell, Feb 2010) that "... the silver coins, 6d, shilling, two-shilling (florin), and 2/6 (half-crown) all weighed proportionally to each other, for example, five sixpences weighed the same as a half-crown coin; ten florins weighed the same as eight half-crowns; twenty shillings weighed the same as eight half-crowns, etc. I used to work in a bank, when silver was put into bags valued at £5.00. Usually all the coins inside were of the same value, but you could have bags of 'mixed silver' which were easy to weigh against a £5 weight on the scales..." This wonderful simplicity of coinage and money-handling contrasts starkly with today when it's so very difficult to pay in any coins - let alone change them over the counter - in most banks and building society branches, as if coins were not proper money.
Prior to decimalisation there was a ten shilling note. Magnificent brown thing. In terms of value it was replaced by the 50p coin on 'D-Day' in 1971 (decimalisation-day was called D-Day at the time, which looking back seems a rather disrespectful abbreviation, now rarely seen or used in decimalisation context) however in terms of circulation the 50p coin was actually introduced two years before decimalisation, in 1969, when like the 5p and 10p coins it served as pre-decimal coinage despite displaying decimal value. When first issued the 50p coin was bigger than the thin miserable 50p coin of recent times, which was introduced in 1998.
Pound notes were unchanged by decimalisation, although in 1978 they were reduced in size, perhaps because the old ones were too beautiful, and then finally phased out in 1988, after effectively being replaced years earlier by the introduction of the one pound coin in 1983. The one pound coin was arguably a missed opportunity to design something special and lovely, like the thrupenny bit. Instead we got a bit of engineering off-cut, or something a plumber might use to seal the end of a pipe. The one pound coin remains somewhat unloved, and many older people still regret the loss of the pound note, especially when receiving a handful of £1 coins in their change.
Also unaffected by decimalisation were the other notes for five and ten and twenty pounds, and the slang terms for them as below. Slang for notes then, as now, is commonly 'folding money' or 'folding stuff'. Like the pound note, the five and ten pound notes have since both been replaced by smaller and less elegant versions. The best-looking banknote these days, not just because of its value, is the fifty pound note. The irony of course is that there are only about four places in the whole of the country which are brave enough to accept them, such is the paranoia surrounding the consequences of accepting a forgery, so the note is rarely seen in normal circulation.
Aside from 'penny' and all its variations, 'bob', slang for a shilling (or number of shillings) and the word 'shilling' itself are the other greatest lost money words from the language. 'Bob' was an extremely common term through the 1900s up until decimalisation in 1971, and then it disappeared completely. 'Bob' persists in certain parts of the English Midlands as slang for dung or nonsense.
A price of two shillings would have been written 2/-. A price of 'two and six', or 'half a crown' was 2/6 or 2/6d. Excitingly, 'bob' and shillings were also commonly the preferred way of expressing amounts that exceeded a pound, especially up to thirty-something shillings or 'thirty bob', rather than the clumsier 'one pound ten shillings' for instance, and even beyond to forty and fifty shillings. Price tags would frequently be shown as, for example, 22/6 (meaning twenty-two shillings and six-pence). Forty-shillings, Fifty-shillings, or 'forty-bob' or fifty-bob' and the numerical steps up to and through these amounts were also commonly used ways of expressing amounts of money and prices. For example, a price 42/9d would have been a perfectly normal way of showing or describing a value that after decimalisation unavoidably had to reference the pounds.
The passing of the Penny, Shilling and Bob in 1971 was a loss not only to the monetary system, but also to the language of money and common speech too.
english money decimalisation - main events
Here are the main currency changes surrounding and following UK decimalisation. The list is not exhaustive, and suggestions, corrections, etc., are welcome.
1968 - 5p and 10p coins were introduced (23 Apr, St George's Day), at the same size and weight as the shilling and florin (two shillings), for which they acted until decimalisation.
1969 - The 50p coin was introduced on 14 October, denominated (acting) as ten shillings until decimalisation. On 31 July the ha'penny or half-penny (½d) was de-monetised (ceasing to be legal tender) and withdrawn from circulation, and on 31 December the half-crown (2/6) suffered the same fate.
1971 - D-Day, 15 February, the introduction of decimalisation, and the effective end of LSD (pounds, shillings, pence), although some pre-decimal coinage for different reasons did not all disappear straight away, notably shillings and florins acting as 5p and 10p, and the sixpence, re-denominated as a quirky 2½p. The old penny (1d) and thrupenny bit (3d) were effectively defunct on D-Day, and were de-monetised (ceased to be legal tender) on 31 August that year. The re-denominated sixpence (to 2½p) was no longer minted and soon disappeared, finally ceasing to be legal tender (de-monetised) far later than most people realise, on 30 June 1980. Decimalisation day introduced for the first time the tiny weeny new 'half-pee' (½p), and the new 1p and 2p coins. Most people at the time rightly believed that the decimal conversion would see consumers lose, and retailers and suppliers gain, because aside from the natural tendency of businesses to round-up when converting from the old to the new systems, there was no escaping the fact that a new half penny equated to more than an old penny; thus for example, a pre-decimal penny sweet could not be sold for anything less than a decimal half-penny, which equated to 1.2 old pennies - a 20% price hike overnight for penny sweet buyers. Similarly, the tuppenny sweets (costing 2d, two old pennies) would generally be newly priced at 1p which equated to 2.4 old pennies. And so it went for all amounts where the new 'pee' did not equate precisely to the old penny values. The only benefit to consumers was in the 99p or 99½p pricing compared to 19 shillings and 11 pence (19/11), which delivered a slight advantage to the purchaser. In 1971 the Duke of Wellington design five pound note was introduced, on 11 November, which remained in use for twenty years.
1978 - The first small-size (Isaac Newton design) one pound note was introduced on 9 February. This signalled the demise of the older larger one pound note, which was quickly replaced in use by the new small-size version.
1982 - The 20p coin was introduced on 9 June. For a decimal coin the 20p is actually quite an appealing thing. It's no thrupenny bit, but at least it has a touch of character, although too thick to be as good a functioning plectrum as a sixpence (which apparently Brian May of Queen still favours).
1983 - The one pound (£1) coin was first minted, which signalled the end of the pound note. Production of the one pound note ceased soon after this, and usage officially ended in 1988.
1984 - The half-penny (½p) ceased to be legal tender. Hardly anyone noticed. The decimal 'half-pee' was completely unloved, unlike the fondness held for the old pre-decimalisation ha'penny (½d).
1988 - The post-decimalisation small-size one pound note (Isaac Newton design) was officially withdrawn on 11 March, but it had long been replaced in use by the one pound coin, introduced in 1983.
1990 - The shilling-sized 5p, first minted in 1968, was de-monetised, and with it the few remaining shilling coins which had been re-denominated as 5p in the 1971 decimalisation. The George Stephenson design five pound note was introduced 7 June.
1992 - The small 10p was introduced, signalling the end for the original florin-sized 10p, and for the few remaining florins too (as distinct from the florin value, two shillings, which was of course re-denimonated as 10p in the 1971 decimalisation). The 1p and 2p coins were changed to copper plated steel, from a bronze of 97% copper, 2.5% zinc, 0.5% tin. This had the interesting effect of making the 'copper' coins magnetic.
1993 - The florin was finally killed off (demonetised - ceased to be legal tender) although in every other sense it was effectively removed from the nation's consciousness and replaced by the 'ten-pee' in 1971. Pre-decimal florins, and shillings, continued in circulation for many years after decimalisation, acting (re-denominated) as their decimal equivalents. The reduction in size of the 5p and 10p coins necessarily removed the predecimal coins from circulation. Ironically the florin was arguably the UK's first 'decimal' coin, and was conceived as such when it was first introduced in 1849, at which time the coin was actually inscribed 'one tenth of a pound'. The big 10p, first minted in 1968, was de-monetised along with the florin this year.
1997 - The bi-colour two pound (£2) coin was first minted for general circulation but not released immediately. The £2 coin - in its various designs - is the closest to thing of beauty among all the decimal coins. It has cupro-nickel inner and nickel-brass outer, wonderful various designs, and weighs almost as much as a small child. Single colour nickel-brass commemorative £2 coins were issued earlier, first in 1986 for the Commonwealth Games in Scotland. The bi-colour £2 coin was not introduced until 1998 because of technical problems, officially due to concerns raised by the vending industry, but some mischievous folk have suggested that it was more due to the robustness of the physical design, which under certain circumstances (e.g., children throwing them at brick walls) failed to prevent the inner and outer parts separating.
1998 - The bi-colour two pound coin (£2) was released into general circulation (see above). The big original 50p was de-monetised on 28 February.
interesting technical facts about english money
Legal Tender: The phrase 'legal tender' is commonly thought to refer to currency that can be used to pay for things, or referring to money that will be accepted by banks and has not been de-monetised or withdrawn from circulation, however the actual meaning of the term 'legal tender' is more technical, and derives from legal practice and terminology relating to the settlement of debts in courts.
Here is the definition of 'legal tender' provided by the Royal Mint: "...Legal tender has a very narrow and technical meaning in the settlement of debts. It means that a debtor cannot successfully be sued for non-payment if he pays into court in legal tender. It does not mean that any ordinary transaction has to take place in legal tender or only within the amount denominated by the legislation. Both parties are free to agree to accept any form of payment whether legal tender or otherwise according to their wishes. In order to comply with the very strict rules governing an actual legal tender it is necessary, for example, actually to offer the exact amount due because no change can be demanded. The amounts for legal tender are stated below [as follows, as at June 2007] ... In England and Wales the £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes are legal tender for payment of any amount. However, they are not legal tender in Scotland and Northern Ireland ... Coins are legal tender throughout the United Kingdom for the following [below] amounts..."
There are rules (below as at June 2007) which place certain limits
on the extent to which coinage can be used for payment (legal tender in other
words) of debts at court in England. While of practical interest perhaps only
to debtors who operate amusement arcades, the scale helps illustrate the real
meaning of 'legal tender':
£5 (Crown), £2 and £1 coins are not subject to any upper limit in the payment of debts into a court.
A maximum £10 can be paid in 50p, 25p (Crown) or 20p coins.
A maximum £5 can be paid in 10p or 5p coins.
A maximum 20p can be paid in 2p or 1p coins.
Maundy Money refers to particular coinage that is struck for the gifts given as part of the strange Maundy Thursday tradition, and also at other times sold as commemorative coinage to celebrate this weird annual event. The practice of giving Maundy gifts and money, and in some situations washing the feet of the recipients, dates back many centuries, linking the monarchy, the Church, Christian and biblical beliefs, and a few chosen representatives of poor or ordinary folk who are no doubt thrilled to be patronised in such a manner. If anyone has any suggestions as to what useful modern purpose the Maundy tradition serves in these modern times (aside from enriching England's coinage) please let me know. The word Maundy incidentally is derived from 'maunde' meaning the Last Supper, from the same Latin root that gives the word 'mandate', more precisely from the Bible passage in John 13:34, "...A new commandment (mandatum novum) I give unto you, that ye love one another..." apparently spoken by Jesus after washing the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper. Maundy Thursday celebrated on the Thursday before Easter, and the expression seems first to have appeared in this form around 1440.
Here's how the Royal Mint explains Maundy history:
"...The Royal Maundy is an ancient ceremony which has its origin in the commandment Christ gave after washing the feet of his disciples on the day before Good Friday. The commandment, or mandatum, 'that ye love one another' (John XIII 34) is still recalled regularly by Christian churches throughout the world and the ceremony of washing the feet of the poor which was accompanied by gifts of food and clothing, can be traced back to the fourth century. It seems to have been the custom as early as the thirteenth century for members of the royal family to take part in Maundy ceremonies, to distribute money and gifts, and to recall Christ's simple act of humility by washing the feet of the poor. Henry IV began the practice of relating the number of recipients of gifts to the sovereign's age, and as it became the custom of the sovereign to perform the ceremony, the event became known as the Royal Maundy. In the eighteenth century the act of washing the feet of the poor was discontinued and in the nineteenth century money allowances were substituted for the various gifts of food and clothing. Maundy money as such started in the reign of Charles II with an undated issue of hammered coins in 1662. The coins were a fourpenny [groat], threepenny, twopenny and one penny piece but it was not until 1670 that a dated set of all four coins appeared. Prior to this, ordinary coinage was used for Maundy gifts, silver pennies alone being used by the Tudors and Stuarts for the ceremony. Today's recipients of Royal Maundy, as many elderly men and women as there are years in the sovereign's age, are chosen because of the Christian service they have given to the Church and community. At the ceremony which takes place annually on Maundy Thursday, the sovereign hands to each recipient two small leather string purses. One, a red purse, contains - in ordinary coinage - money in lieu of food and clothing; the other, a white purse, contains silver Maundy coins consisting of the same number of pence as the years of the sovereign's age. Maundy money has remained in much the same form since 1670, and the coins used for the Maundy ceremony have traditionally been struck in sterling silver save for the brief interruptions of Henry's Vlll's debasement of the coinage and the general change to 50% silver coins in 1920. The sterling silver standard (92.5%) was resumed following the Coinage Act of 1946 and in 1971, when decimalisation took place, the face values of the coins were increased from old to new pence. The effigy of The Queen on ordinary circulating coinage has undergone three changes, but Maundy coins still bear the same portrait of Her Majesty prepared by Mary Gillick for the first coins issued in the year of her coronation in 1953..."
© Royal Mint, 2007.
withdrawn and damaged banknotes
Despite popular perception, banknotes that have been withdrawn from circulation can be redeemed at the Bank of England, albeit actually at their Leeds offices, not in London.
The perpetual value of a banknote, irrespective of legal tender status or de-monetisation, arises because a banknote is effectively a timeless promise by the Bank of England to honour the payment (value) to the holder of the note. This is reflected in the statement on all banknotes: "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of (however many) pounds", which is duly followed by the signature of the chief cashier of the Bank of England.
Damaged, mutilated or contaminated banknotes can also be redeemed at the Bank of England subject to the Bank being able to satisfy concerns that the claim is genuine, which normally requires that not less than half the banknote remains, and ideally that key features on the damaged banknote(s) are preserved, notably the serial number and statement to pay the bearer, and cashier's signature. Apparently the Bank of England deals with about 35,000 requests to reimburse damaged banknotes totaling over £40m, which suggests that many claims are for rather more than the odd tenner accidentally put in the washing machine. More information and application form is available from the Bank of England website.
Here's an interesting fact...
As at 2009 official sources (including The Royal Mint) state that 2.5% - that's one in every forty - of pound coins in circulation in the UK are counterfeit.
This explains why so many pound coins fail to work in parking machines and other coin-slot machines.
Aside from the coin-machine test, other common indicators of a fake £1 coin are:
- front and backs not being perfectly aligned with each other
- off-centre design
- words around the milled edges being incorrect for the coin design or year (The Royal Mint provides details of what goes with what)
- absent cross on the milled edge, which is apparently difficult to fake
- coins looking too 'new' for their year or feeling 'soapy' or different
- (and my local butcher told me) fakes don't bounce on the floor the same as real ones
The Royal Mint advises (surely in hope rather than in any sort of expectation) that anyone discovering a fake one pound coin should hand it in to their local police station. Call me a cynic, but if anyone knows of a single instance of a fake one pound coin ever having been handed into a police station, I'd love to know about it.
the undated 20p 'mule' coin
This fascinating 2008 minting error of the new design 20p coin generated much interest, and provides a wonderful example of how a daft mistake can undermine even the most rigorous quality assurance system.
Here's the official story from the Royal Mint: "...In November 2008 a number of 20p coins were incorrectly minted resulting in their having no date. This problem affected less than 250,000 coins of the 136 million 20p pieces minted in 2008-09 and was due to the previous obverse (the 'heads' side) being used with the new reverse (the 'tails' side) design, meaning the year of issue did not feature at all. These coins remain legal tender and still have a face value of 20p..."
I love the way they say "less than", as if 250,000 coins could get lost down the back of a settee.
Despite the numbers involved, the 20p 'mule' (slang for a faulty coin, based on the metaphor of a cross between a horse and a donkey) is worth a lot more than 20p, but not nearly as much as some of the bigger sums (thousands or even millions of pounds) at which they are occasionally offered for sale on auction websites. In late 2008 there would have been quite a lot of these in circulation - perhaps one in every five hundred or so, but not so many now. Check your change..
While the origins of these slang terms are many and various, certainly a lot of English money slang is rooted in various London communities, which for different reasons liked to use language only known in their own circles, notably wholesale markets, street traders, crime and the underworld, the docks, taxi-cab driving, and the immigrant communities. London has for centuries been extremely cosmopolitan, both as a travel hub and a place for foreign people to live and work and start their own busineses. This contributed to the development of some 'lingua franca' expressions, i.e., mixtures of Italian, Greek, Arabic, Yiddish (Jewish European/Hebrew dialect), Spanish and English which developed to enable understanding between people of different nationalities, rather like a pidgin or hybrid English. Certain lingua franca blended with 'parlyaree' or 'polari', which is basically underworld slang.
Backslang also contributes several slang money words. Backslang reverses the phonetic (sound of the) word, not the spelling, which can produce some strange interpretations, and was popular among market traders, butchers and greengrocers.
Here are the most common and/or interesting British slang money words and expressions, with meanings, and origins where known. Many are now obsolete; typically words which relate to pre-decimalisation coins, although some have re-emerged and continue to do so.
Some non-slang words are included where their origins are particularly interesting, as are some interesting slang money expressions which originated in other parts of the world, and which are now entering the English language. Origins of official English money words appear in the main article.
english slang money glossary
archer - two thousand pounds (£2,000), late 20th century, from the Jeffrey Archer court case in which he was alleged to have bribed call-girl Monica Coughlan with this amount.
ayrton senna/ayrton - tenner (ten pounds, £10) - cockney rhyming slang created in the 1980s or early 90s, from the name of the peerless Brazilian world champion Formula One racing driver, Ayrton Senna (1960-94), who won world titles in 1988, 90 and 91, before his tragic death at San Marino in 1994.
bag/bag of sand - grand = one thousand pounds (£1,000), seemingly recent cockney rhyming slang, in use from around the mid-1990s in Greater London; perhaps more widely too - let me know. (Thanks Ed Brock, May 2007)
banana - predominantly Australian slang from the 1960s for a £1 note (supposedly because one is 'sweet and acceptable'), although likely derived from earlier English/Australian use, like other slang symbolic of yellow/gold (canary, bumblebee, etc), to refer to a sovereign or guinea or other (as was) high value gold coin.
bar - a pound, from the late 1800s, and earlier a sovereign, probably from Romany gypsy 'bauro' meaning heavy or big, and also influenced by allusion to the iron bars use as trading currency used with Africans, plus a possible reference to the custom of casting of precious metal in bars.
batter - money, slang from the late 1800s, derived partly because of the colour allusion to gold, and partly as a punning (double-meaning) reference to the action of making dough. This perhaps also gave rise (another pun, sorry), or at least supportive meaning to the use of batter (from 1800s) as a reference to a spending spree or binge.
bender - sixpence (6d) Another slang term with origins in the 1800s when the coins were actually solid silver, from the practice of testing authenticity by biting and bending the coin, which would being made of near-pure silver have been softer than the fakes.
beer tokens/beer vouchers - money - beer tokens/beer vouchers referred especially to pound notes before their discontinuation, subsequently transferring to pound coins, and higher value notes as beer prices have inflated. The expression is from the late 20th century. My personal experience of this expression (1970s South London) was as a humorous reference to the fact that young men's money was largely spent on beer, as if the note was valid only for that purpose, like a token or voucher. I am informed interestingly (thanks S Bayliss) that: "...I regularly used this phrase during my formative years as a student. To me, 'beer tokens' were exactly that - tokens issued by Ansells Brewery in Birmingham to its staff (Ansells was part of the then vast UK Allied Breweries company). These tokens were valid in the brewery and in Ansells pubs for a pint of mild beer, but could be exchanged for other drinks if the difference in price was paid. This meant that I used to pay 2p for a pint of bitter or a whole 5p for a pint of lager, unfortunately Skol! My nights out were very cheap. These beer tokens were available before I worked in the brewery, which was first in 1977, and were a secondary form of remuneration in the brewery..." Additional fascinating facts about beer and ale on the real ale page.
beehive - five pounds (£5). Cockney rhyming slang from 1960s and perhaps earlier since beehive has meant the number five in rhyming slang since at least the 1920s.
bees (bees and honey) - money. Cockney rhyming slang from the late 1800s. Also shortened to beesum (from bees and, bees 'n', to beesum).
bice/byce - two shillings (2/-) or two pounds or twenty pounds - probably from the French bis, meaning twice, which suggests usage is older than the 1900s first recorded and referenced by dictionary sources. Bice could also occur in conjunction with other shilling slang, where the word bice assumes the meaning 'two', as in 'a bice of deaners', pronounced 'bicerdeaners', and with other money slang, for example bice of tenners, pronounced 'bicertenners', meaning twenty pounds.
big ben - ten pounds (£10) the sum, and a ten pound note - cockney rhyming slang.
biscuit - £100 or £1,000. Initially suggested (Mar 2007) by a reader who tells me that the slang term 'biscuit', meaning £100, has been in use for several years, notably in the casino trade (thanks E). I am grateful also (thanks Paul, Apr 2007) for a further suggestion that 'biscuit' means £1,000 in the casino trade, which apparently is due to the larger size of the £1,000 chip. It would seem that the 'biscuit' slang term is still evolving and might mean different things (£100 or £1,000) to different people. I can find no other references to meanings or origins for the money term 'biscuit' and would be grateful for other evidence. Let me know.
bit - (thruppenny bit, two-bob bit) - recorded first as 'thieves slang' for money in 1609, short simply for 'a bit of money'. In the US bit was first recorded in 1683 referring to "...a small silver coin forming a fraction of the (then) Spanish dollar and its equivalent of the time..." Elsewhere in the world during the 1700-1800s bit came generally to refer to the smallest silver coin of many different currencies. By 1829 the English slang bit referred more specifically to a fourpenny coin. By the 1900s the meaning applied to silver threepences/'thruppences' (see joey), sixpences and also to florins (two shillings) and later that century very commonly and iconically to the beautiful twelve-sided brass threepence/thruppence (i.e., thruppenny bit, sixpenny bit and two-bob bit). (All that is according to OED 1922 and Partridge slang.) Quirkily, partly or wholly due to the pre-decimalisation introduction of the 50p coin in 1967 the term 'ten-bob bit' also emerged, because when first minted, until decimalistion in 1971, the 50p coin was officially a 'ten shilling coin', replacing the previous ten shilling note. The use of bit here was something of an ironic distortion and departure from the traditional references to coins of relatively low value, or perhaps a reflection of inflation..
bitcoin - not slang and not old - Bitcoin is an electronic computerized currency. The word is a pun - computer bit and bit meaning a coin. See Bitcoin in the business glossary - it is a fascinating contrast with the cash and coinage concepts featured on this page.
bluey - five pounds (£5), and especially a five pound note, because its colour was mainly blue for most of the latter half of the 1900s. The blue fiver was introduced in 1957, replacing the white five pound note finally in 1961. White five pound notes, in different designs, date back to the 1830s, although there seems no record of 'whitey' as money slang. (Thanks J Bessent)
bob - shilling (1/-), although in recent times means money in a general sense, or a pound or a dollar in certain regions. Historically bob was slang for a British shilling (Twelve old pence, pre-decimalisation - and twenty shillings to a pound - equating to 5p now). There was and remains no plural version; it was 'thirty bob' not 'thirty bobs', or 'a few bob' (meaning then and now, a relatively large sum of money) not 'a few bobs'. Prior to 1971 bob was one of the most commonly used English slang words. Arguably the word bob became so popular as we might question the word's slang status, for example the Boy Scouts and Cubs 'Bob-a Job' week tradition, (see Bob-a-Job above), was officially publicised and recognised for a couple of decades in British society pre-decimalisation. Now sadly gone from common use in the UK meaning shilling, bob is used now extremely rarely to mean 5p, the decimal equivalent of a shilling; in fact most young people would have no clue that it equates in this way. Bob more commonly now means money in a general sense, (as it did also pre-decimalisation), for example, 'it cost a few bob', which is usually a sarcastic allusion to quite a lot of money, or also, 'He's worth a few bob'. In pre-decimal days bob also referred to larger sums of money such as ten bob (ten shillings) or 'thirty bob' (one pound and ten shillings - 'one pound ten'), or fifty bob (two pounds ten shillings - 'two pound ten'). Far less commonly now bob translates to multiples of 5p, for example: 'ten bob' = 50p, and 'thirty bob' = £1.50, although these are quite rare terms now, and virtually unused among young folk. Other non-money slang meanings of bob exist, for example the noun meaning of poo (dung or excrement) or verb for same (to defecate); and the verb meaning of cheat. Bob is also a hairstyle, although none of these other meanings relate to the money slang. There are clear indications around the turn of the 20th to the 21st century that bob as money slang is being used to mean a pound, although this is far from common usage, and is perhaps more of an adaptation of the general monetary meaning, rather than an established specific term for the pound unit, as it once was for the shilling. Usage of bob for shilling dates back to the late 1700s. Origin of the word in this sense is not known for sure. Possibilities include a connection with the church or bell-ringing since 'bob' meant a set of changes rung on the bells. This would be consistent with one of the possible origins and associations of the root of the word Shilling, (from Proto-Germanic 'skell' meaning to sound or ring). There is possibly an association with plumb-bob, being another symbolic piece of metal, made of lead and used to mark a vertical position in certain trades, notably masons. Brewer's 1870 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable states that 'bob' could be derived from 'Bawbee', which was 16-19th century slang for a half-penny, in turn derived from: French 'bas billon', meaning debased copper money (coins were commonly cut to make change). Brewer also references the Laird of Sillabawby, a 16th century mintmaster, as a possible origin. 'Bob a nob', in the early 1800s meant 'a shilling a head', when estimating costs of meals, etc. In the 18th century 'bobstick' was a shillings-worth of gin. In parts of the US 'bob' was used for the US dollar coin. I am also informed (thanks K Inglott, March 2007) that bob is now slang for a pound in his part of the world (Bath, South-West England), and has also been used as money slang, presumably for Australian dollars, on the Home and Away TV soap series. A popular slang word like bob arguably develops a life of its own. Additionally (ack Martin Symington, Jun 2007) the word 'bob' is still commonly used among the white community of Tanzania in East Africa for the Tanzanian Shilling. As ever, more detail is welcome.
boodle - money. There are many different interpretations of boodle meaning money, in the UK and the US. Boodle normally referred to ill-gotten gains, such as counterfeit notes or the proceeds of a robbery, and also to a roll of banknotes, although in recent times the usage has extended to all sorts of money, usually in fairly large amounts. Much variation in meaning is found in the US. The origins of boodle meaning money are (according to Cassells) probably from the Dutch word 'boedel' for personal effects or property (a person's worth) and/or from the old Scottish 'bodle' coin, worth two Scottish pence and one-sixth of an English penny, which logically would have been pre-decimalisation currency.
bottle - two pounds, or earlier tuppence (2d), from the cockney rhyming slang: bottle of spruce = deuce (= two pounds or tuppence). Spruce probably mainly refers to spruce beer, made from the shoots of spruce fir trees which is made in alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. Separately bottle means money generally and particularly loose coinage, from the custom of passing a bottle for people to give money to a busker or street entertainer. I am also informed (ack Sue Batch, Nov 2007) that spruce also referred to lemonade, which is perhaps another source of the bottle rhyming slang: "... around Northants, particularly the Rushden area, Spruce is in fact lemonade... it has died out nowadays - I was brought up in the 50s and 60s and it was an everyday word around my area back then. As kids growing up we always asked for a glass of spruce. It was quite an accepted name for lemonade..."
brass - money. From the 16th century, and a popular expression the north of England, e.g., 'where there's muck there's brass' which incidentally alluded to certain trades involving scrap-metal, mess or waste, which to some offered very high earnings. This was also a defensive or retaliatory remark aimed at those of middle, higher or professional classes who might look down on certain 'working class' entrepreneurs or traders. The 'where there's much there's brass' expression helped maintain and spread the populairity iof the 'brass' money slang, rather than cause it. Brass originated as slang for money by association to the colour of gold coins, and the value of brass as a scrap metal. See separately 'maggie/brass maggie'.
brick - ten pounds or ten dollars (usually the banknote) - Australian slang from the early 1900s, derived from the red colour of the note and oblong shape. Also a prison sentence of ten years. (Thanks S Johnson)
bread (bread and honey) - money. From cockney rhyming slang, bread and honey = money, and which gave rise to the secondary rhyming slang 'poppy', from poppy red = bread. Bread also has associations with money, which in a metaphorical sense can be traced back to the Bible. Bread meaning money is also linked with with the expression 'earning a crust', which alludes to having enough money to pay for one's daily bread.
brown - a half-penny or ha'penny. An old term, probably more common in London than elsewhere, used before UK decimalisation in 1971, and before the ha'penny was withdrawn in the 1960s.
bull - five shillings (5/-), a crown, equal to 25p. From the late 1700s to 1910s. A shortening of bull's eye. After about 1910 'a bull' more commonly referred to a counterfeit coin. Separately 'bull money' was slang from the late 1800s meaning money handed to a blackmailer, or a bribe given in return for silence.
bull's eye - five shillings (5/-), a crown, equal to 25p. From the late 1600s to 1800s. Largely superseded in this meaning by the shortened 'bull' slang.
bumblebee - American slang from the 1940s for a $1 bill, logically deriving from earlier English/US use, like other slang symbolic of yellow/gold (banana, canary, etc), referring to a sovereign or guinea or other (as was) high value gold coin.
bunce - money, usually unexpected gain and extra to an agreed or predicted payment, typically not realised by the payer. Earlier English spelling was bunts or bunse, dating from the late 1700s or early 1800s (Cassells and Partridge). Origins are not certain. Bunts also used to refer to unwanted or unaccounted-for goods sold for a crafty gain by workers, and activity typically hidden from the business owner. Suggestions of origin include a supposed cockney rhyming slang shortening of bunsen burner (= earner), which is very appealing, but unlikely given the history of the word and spelling, notably that the slang money meaning pre-dated the invention of the bunsen burner, which was devised around 1857. (Thanks R Bambridge)
bung - money in the form of a bribe, from the early English meaning of pocket and purse, and pick-pocket, according to Cassells derived from Frisian (North Netherlands) pung, meaning purse. Bung is also a verb, meaning to bribe someone by giving cash.
cabbage - money in banknotes, 'folding' money - orginally US slang according to Cassells, from the 1900s, also used in the UK, logically arising because of the leaf allusion, and green was a common colour of dollar notes and pound notes (thanks R Maguire, who remembers the slang from Glasgow in 1970s).
canary - a guinea or sovereign or other gold coin, slang from the mid-1800s to 1900s, derived purely by association of the yellow/gold colours. Also, late 1800s, a half sovereign.
carpet - three pounds (£3) or three hundred pounds (£300), or sometimes thirty pounds (£30). This has confusing and convoluted origins, from as early as the late 1800s: It seems originally to have been a slang term for a three month prison sentence, based on the following: that 'carpet bag' was cockney rhyming slang for a 'drag', which was generally used to describe a three month sentence; also that in the prison workshops it supposedly took ninety days to produce a certain regulation-size piece of carpet; and there is also a belief that prisoners used to be awarded the luxury of a piece of carpet for their cell after three year's incarceration. The term has since the early 1900s been used by bookmakers and horse-racing, where carpet refers to odds of three-to-one, and in car dealing, where it refers to an amount of £300.
caser/case - five shillings (5/-), a crown coin. Seems to have surfaced first as caser in Australia in the mid-1800s from the Yiddish (Jewish European/Hebrew dialect) kesef meaning silver, where (in Australia) it also meant a five year prison term. Caser was slang also for a US dollar coin, and the US/Autralian slang logically transferred to English, either or all because of the reference to silver coin, dollar slang for a crown, or the comparable value, as was.
chip - a shilling (1/-) and earlier, mid-late 1800s a pound or a sovereign. According to Cassells chip meaning a shilling is from horse-racing and betting. Chip was also slang for an Indian rupee. The association with a gambling chip is logical. Chip and chipping also have more general associations with money and particularly money-related crime, where the derivations become blurred with other underworld meanings of chip relating to sex and women (perhaps from the French 'chipie' meaning a vivacious woman) and narcotics (in which chip refers to diluting or skimming from a consignment, as in chipping off a small piece - of the drug or the profit). Chipping-in also means to contributing towards or paying towards something, which again relates to the gambling chip use and metaphor, i.e. putting chips into the centre of the table being necessary to continue playing.
chump change - a relatively insiginificant amount of money - a recent expression (seemingly 2000s) originating in the US and now apparently entering UK usage. (Thanks M Johnson, Jan 2008)
clod - a penny (1d). Clod was also used for other old copper coins. From cockney rhyming slang clodhopper (= copper). A clod is a lump of earth. A clodhopper is old slang for a farmer or bumpkin or lout, and was also a derogatory term used by the cavalry for infantry foot soldiers.
coal - a penny (1d). Also referred to money generally, from the late 1600s, when the slang was based simply on a metaphor of coal being an essential commodity for life. The spelling cole was also used. Common use of the coal/cole slang largely ceased by the 1800s although it continued in the expressions 'tip the cole' and 'post the cole', meaning to make a payment, until these too fell out of popular use by the 1900s. It is therefore unlikely that anyone today will use or recall this particular slang, but if the question arises you'll know the answer. Intriguingly I've been informed (thanks P Burns, 8 Dec 2008) that the slang 'coal', seemingly referring to money - although I've seen a suggestion of it being a euphemism for coke (cocaine) - appears in the lyrics of the song Oxford Comma by the band Vampire weekend: "Why would you lie about how much coal you have? Why would you lie about something dumb like that?..." Please tell me any other modern usage examples like this. Or if anyone knows any of the Vampire Weekend folk and can confirm the meaning and source of this apparently resurrected slang, again please let me know. Additionally (thanks T Slater) there is probably some connection with the commonly used German slang term 'kohle' (coal) for money, although the direction of influence is unclear. At least one German dictionary (again thanks T Slater) suggests the 'kohle' slang derives from Yiddish 'kal'. If anyone has further information about this please let me know.
cock and hen - ten pounds (thanks N Shipperley). The ten pound meaning of cock and hen is 20th century rhyming slang. Cock and hen - also cockerel and hen - has carried the rhyming slang meaning for the number ten for longer. Its transfer to ten pounds logically grew more popular through the inflationary 1900s as the ten pound amount and banknote became more common currency in people's wages and wallets, and therefore language. Cock and hen also gave raise to the variations cockeren, cockeren and hen, hen, and the natural rhyming slang short version, cock - all meaning ten pounds.
cockeren - ten pounds, see cock and hen.
coffers - savings or funds - a coffer was originally a strongbox for money and valuables (first from Greek kophinos, basket), typically used by royalty. A 'cofferer' was an early (medieaval times) sort of accountant or keeper of the monarch's financial books/money, at the time when money was kept in a 'counting house', and when this effectively represented the funds of the ruling authority. 'Coffer' and 'coffers' later came to refer to the treasury, detached from the monarchy, and in more recent times transferred to mean money itself, of ordinary people. The sense of a box persists in usage, although most people will not understand this when, in questioning their own ability to afford something, they say things like, "I'll have to see what's in the coffers.."
commodore = fifteen pounds (£15). The origin is almost certainly London, and the clever and amusing derivation reflects the wit of Londoners: Cockney rhyming slang for five pounds is a 'lady', (from Lady Godiva = fiver); fifteen pounds is three-times five pounds (3x£5=£15); 'Three Times a Lady' is a song recorded by the group The Commodores; and there you have it: Three Times a Lady = fifteen pounds = a commodore. (Thanks Simon Ladd, Jun 2007)
coppers - pre-decimal farthings, ha'pennies and pennies, and to a lesser extent 1p and 2p coins since decimalisation, and also meaning a very small amount of money. Coppers was very popular slang pre-decimalisation (1971), and is still used in referring to modern pennies and two-penny coins, typically describing the copper (coloured) coins in one's pocket or change, or piggy bank. Pre-decimal farthings, ha'pennies and pennies were 97% copper (technically bronze), and would nowadays be worth significantly more than their old face value because copper has become so much more valuable. Decimal 1p and 2p coins were also 97% copper (technically bronze - 97% copper, 2.5% zinc, 0.5% tin ) until replaced by copper-plated steel in 1992, which amusingly made them magnetic. The term coppers is also slang for a very small amount of money, or a cost of something typically less than a pound, usually referring to a bargain or a sum not worth thinking about, somewhat like saying 'peanuts' or 'a row of beans'. For example: "What did you pay for that?" ...... "Coppers." (Thanks H Camrass for pointing out this omission from the glossary. There is a lot more about copper coins in the money history above.)
cows - a pound, 1930s, from the rhyming slang 'cow's licker' = nicker (nicker means a pound). The word cows means a single pound since technically the word is cow's, from cow's licker.
daddler/dadla/dadler - threepenny bit (3d), and also earlier a farthing (quarter of an old penny, ¼d), from the early 1900s, based on association with the word tiddler, meaning something very small.
deaner/dena/denar/dener - a shilling (1/-), from the mid-1800s, derived from association with the many European dinar coins and similar, and derived in turn and associated with the Roman denarius coin which formed the basis of many European currencies and their names. The pronunciation emphasis tends to be on the long second syllable 'aah' sound. The expression is interpreted into Australian and New Zealand money slang as deener, again meaning shilling.
deep sea diver - fiver (£5), heard in use Oxfordshire (thanks Karen/Ewan) late 1990s, this is cockney rhyming slang still in use, dating originally from the 1940s.
delog/dilog/dlog - gold or gold money, logically extending more loosely to refer to money generally, first recorded in the mid-1800s. This is backslang - in this case a reversal of the word and formation of new word to represent the new sound - to confuse anyone who doesn't understand it. Backslang, like rhyming slang, thrived and continues to thrive in social environments where for reasons of secrecy or fun people develop language that is difficult for outsiders to understand.
deuce - two pounds, and much earlier (from the 1600s) tuppence (two old pence, 2d), from the French deus and Latin duos meaning two (which also give us the deuce term in tennis, meaning two points needed to win).
dibs/dibbs - money. Dib was also US slang meaning $1 (one dollar), which presumably extended to more than one when pluralised. Origins of dib/dibs/dibbs are uncertain but probably relate to the old (early 1800s) children's game of dibs or dibstones played with the knuckle-bones of sheep or pebbles. Also relates to (but not necessairly derived from) the expression especially used by children, 'dibs' meaning a share or claim of something, and dibbing or dipping among a group of children, to determine shares or winnings or who would be 'it' for a subsequent chasing game. In this sort of dipping or dibbing, a dipping rhyme would be spoken, coinciding with the pointing or touchung of players in turn, eliminating the child on the final word, for example:
- 'dip dip sky blue who's it not you' (the word 'you' meant elimination for the corresponding child)
- 'ibble-obble black bobble ibble obble out' ('out' meant elimination)
- 'one potato two potato three potato four
five potato six potato seven potato more' ('more' meant elimination)
(In this final dipping/dibbing game the procedure was effectively doubled because the spoken rhythm matched the touching of each contestant's two outstretched fists in turn with the fist of the 'dipper' - who incidentally included him/herself in the dipping by touching their own fists together twice, or if one of their own fists was eliminated would touch their chin. The winner or 'it' would be the person remaining with the last untouched fist. Players would put their fists behind their backs when touched, and interstingly I can remember that as children we would conform to the rules so diligently that our fists would remain tightly clenched behind our backs until the dipping game had finished. I guess this wouldn't happen today because each child would need at least one hand free for holding their mobile phone and texting.)
dinarly/dinarla/dinaly - a shilling (1/-), from the mid-1800s, also transferred later to the decimal equivalent 5p piece, from the same roots that produced the 'deaner' shilling slang and variations, i.e., Roman denarius and then through other European dinar coins and variations. As with deanar the pronunciation emphasis tends to be on the long second syllable 'aah' sound.
dirty den - ten pounds (£10). Cockney rhyming slang, referring to the BBC TV 'Eastenders' soap series character Dennis Watts (landlord and abusive husband of Angie at the Queen Vic pub), which dates the origins of the expression to the mid-late1980s. Dennis Watts appeared in the first episode of the Eastenders series on 19 Feb 1985. Subsequently the Dirty Den nickname was popularised - not actually in the series itself - but by the UK tabloid press, which became and remains obsessively preoccupied with TV soap storylines and the actors portraying them, as if it were all real life and real news. Dennis 'Dirty Den' Watts is one of the most iconic of all soap characters, enduring in the plot until finally being killed off (the second time, for good, probably) in 2005. The 1986 Christmas Day episode, heavily promoted by the popular media, in which Den handed divorce papers to his wife Angie, attracted the biggest ever recorded UK TV audience (30.15million), more than half the population. No wonder perhaps that such a slang term arose. Dirty Den is a good example of how language, and slang particularly, alter in response to popular fashion, and also more broadly is an example of the frighteningly powerful influence of popular media, especially the tabloid press, on the way we think and behave. (Thanks P Robinson-Griffin)
dollar - slang for money, commonly used in singular form, eg., 'Got any dollar?..'. In earlier times a dollar was slang for an English Crown, five shillings (5/-), and 'half-a-dollar' was slang for the half-crown or two-and-sixpence coin (2/6 - two shillings and sixpence). From the 1900s in England and so called because the coin was similar in appearance and size to the American dollar coin, and at one time similar in value too. Brewer's dictionary of 1870 says that the American dollar is '..in English money a little more than four shillings..'. That's about 20p. The word dollar is originally derived from German 'Thaler', and earlier from Low German 'dahler', meaning a valley (from which we also got the word 'dale'). The connection with coinage is that in the late 1400s the Counts of Schlick, Bohemia, mined silver from 'Joachim's Thal' (Joachim's Valley - now equating to Jáchymov, a spa town in NW Bohemia in the Czech Republic, close to the border to Germany), from which was minted the silver ounce coins called Joachim's Thalers. These coins became standard coinage in that region of what would now be Germany. All later generic versions of the coins were called 'Thalers'. An 'oxford' was cockney rhyming slang for five shillings (5/-) based on the dollar rhyming slang: 'oxford scholar'.
dosh - slang for a reasonable amount of spending money, for instance enough for a 'night-out'. Almost certainly and logically derived from the slang 'doss-house', meaning a very cheap hostel or room, from Elizabethan England when 'doss' was a straw bed, from 'dossel' meaning bundle of straw, in turn from the French 'dossier' meaning bundle. Dosh appears to have originated in this form in the US in the 19th century, and then re-emerged in more popular use in the UK in the mid-20th century.
doubloons - money. From the Spanish gold coins of the same name.
dough - money. Mid-1800s slang obvious alternative for the slang bread. Dough later (1940s) also referred specifically to counterfeit money in underworld and criminal society.
doughnut/donut - meaning £75? - very recent perhaps - if you have any details at all about this please let me know - also (thanks A Briggs) 'doughnuts' means zero(s) ($0) in Australia.
dunop/doonup - pound, backslang from the mid-1800s, in which the slang is created from a reversal of the word sound, rather than the spelling, hence the loose correlation to the source word.
ewif gens - five shillings, 1800s backslang, perhaps a phonetically pleasing distortion of evif meaning five.
ewif yenneps - five pence (old pence, 5d), as above.
exis gens - six shillings (6/-), backslang from the 1800s. See gens (backslang of shillings derived loosely via 'generalise').
exis/exes - six pounds (£6), 20th century, earlier probably six shillings (6/-), logically implied by the fuller term 'exis gens' above, from the mid 1800s. Backslang (loosely the word-sound of six reversed).
exis yenneps - sixpence (6d), 1800s backslang.
exis-evif yenneps - eleven pence (old pence, 11d), 1800s backslang for six and five pennies (= eleven pennies). Strange but true.
exis-ewif gens - one pound ten (£1 10/-) or thirty shillings - more weird backslang from the 1800s, derived from loosely reversing six (times) five shillings. See gen.
farthing - a quarter of an old penny (¼d) - not slang, a proper word in use (in slightly different form - feorthung) since the end of the first millenium, and in this list mainly to clarify that the origin of the word is not from 'four things', supposedly and commonly believed from the times when coins were split to make pieces of smaller value, but actually (less excitingly) from Old English feortha, meaning fourth, corresponding to Old Frisian fiardeng, meaning a quarter of a mark, and similar Germanic words meaning four and fourth. The modern form of farthing was first recorded in English around 1280 when it altered from ferthing to farthing.
fiver - five pounds (£5), from the mid-1800s. More rarely from the early-mid 1900s fiver could also mean five thousand pounds, but arguably it remains today the most widely used slang term for five pounds.
fin/finn/finny/finnif/finnip/finnup/finnio/finnif - five pounds (£5), from the early 1800s. There are other spelling variations based on the same theme, all derived from the German and Yiddish (European/Hebrew mixture) funf, meaning five, more precisely spelled fünf. A 'double-finnif' (or double-fin, etc) means ten pounds; 'half-a-fin' (half-a-finnip, etc) would have been two pounds ten shillings (equal to £2.50). See also 'long-tailed-finnip', meaning ten pounds.
flag - five pound note (£5), UK, notably in Manchester (ack Michael Hicks); also a USA one dollar bill; also used as a slang term for a money note in Australia although Cassells is vague about the value (if you know please contact us). The word flag has been used since the 1500s as a slang expression for various types of money, and more recently for certain notes. Originally (16th-19thC) the slang word flag was used for an English fourpenny groat coin, derived possibly from Middle Low German word 'Vleger' meaning a coin worth 'more than a Bremer groat' (Cassells). Derivation in the USA would likely also have been influenced by the slang expression 'Jewish Flag' or 'Jews Flag' for a $1 bill, from early 20th century, being an envious derogatory reference to perceived and stereotypical Jewish success in business and finance.
flim/flimsy - five pounds (£5), early 1900s, so called because of the thin and flimsy paper on which five pound notes of the time were printed.
florin/flo - a two shilling or 'two bob' coin (florin is actually not slang - it's from Latin meaning flower, and a 14th century Florentine coin called the Floren). Equivalent to 10p - a tenth of a pound. A 'flo' is the slang shortening, meaning two shillings.
folding/folding stuff/folding money/folding green = banknotes, especially to differentiate or emphasise an amount of money as would be impractical to carry or pay in coins, typically for a night out or to settle a bill. Folding, folding stuff and folding money are all popular slang in London. Folding green is more American than UK slang. Cassells says these were first recorded in the 1930s, and suggests they all originated in the US, which might be true given that banknotes arguably entered very wide use earlier in the US than in the UK. (Thanks P Jones, June 2008)
foont/funt = a pound (£1), from the mid-1900s, derived from the German word 'pfund' for the UK pound.
french/french loaf - four pounds, most likely from the second half of the 1900s, cockney rhyming slang for rofe (french loaf = rofe), which is backslang for four, also meaning four pounds. Easy when you know how..
g/G - a thousand pounds. Shortening of 'grand' (see below). From the 1920s, and popular slang in fast-moving business, trading, the underworld, etc., until the 1970s when it was largely replaced by 'K'. Usually retains singular form (G rather than G's) for more than one thousand pounds, for example "Twenty G".
garden/garden gate - eight pounds (£8), cockney rhyming slang for eight, naturally extended to eight pounds. In spoken use 'a garden' is eight pounds. Incidentally garden gate is also rhyming slang for magistrate, and the plural garden gates is rhyming slang for rates. The word garden features strongly in London, in famous place names such as Hatton Garden, the diamond quarter in the central City of London, and Covent Garden, the site of the old vegetable market in West London, and also the term appears in sexual euphemisms, such as 'sitting in the garden with the gate unlocked', which refers to a careless pregnancy.
gelt/gelter - money, from the late 1600s, with roots in foreign words for gold, notably German and Yiddish (Jewish European/Hebrew dialect) gelt, and Dutch and South African geld.
gen - a shilling (1/-), from the mid 1800s, either based on the word argent, meaning silver (from French and Latin, and used in English heraldry, i.e., coats of arms and shields, to refer to the colour silver), or more likely a shortening of 'generalize', a peculiar supposed backslang of shilling, which in its own right was certainly slang for shilling, and strangely also the verb to lend a shilling.
generalise/generalize - a shilling (1/-), from the mid 1800s, thought to be backslang. Also meant to lend a shilling, apparently used by the middle classes, presumably to avoid embarrassment. Given that backslang is based on phonetic word sound not spelling, the conversion of shilling to generalize is just about understandable, if somewhat tenuous, and in the absence of other explanation is the only known possible derivation of this odd slang.
gen net/net gen - ten shillings (1/-), backslang from the 1800s (from 'ten gen').
gingerbread - money, wealth. From the late 1600s to mid 1800s, deriving by association to the colour of gold and gold coins, and no doubt supported by the inclusion of the word bread, with its own monetary meanings.
goree/gory/old Mr Gory - money, from the late 1600s until the early 1800s, and rare since then. This slang derived from the island of Goree (also referred to as Fort Goree) part of and close to Senegal on the West African coast, which was and remains symbolic in the slave trade.
grand - a thousand pounds (£1,000 or $1,000) Not pluralised in full form. Shortened to 'G' (usually plural form also) or less commonly 'G's'. Originated in the USA in the 1920s, logically an association with the literal meaning - full or large.
greens - money, usually old-style green coloured pound notes, but actully applying to all money or cash-earnings since the slang derives from the cockney rhyming slang: 'greengages' (= wages).
groat - an old silver four-penny coin from around 1300 and in use in similar form until c.1662, although Brewer states in his late 1800s revised edition of his 1870 dictionary of slang that 'the modern groat was introduced in 1835, and withdrawn in 1887', which is somewhat confusing. Presumably there were different versions and issues of the groat coin, which seems to have been present in the coinage from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Very occasionally older people, students of English or History, etc., refer to loose change of a small amount of coin money as groats. Sadly the word is almost obsolete now, although the groat coin is kept alive in Maundy Money. The word derives from Middle English and Middle Dutch 'groot' meaning 'great' since this coin was a big one, compared to a penny. The similar German and Austrian coin was the 'Groschen', equivalent to 10 'Pfennigs'. The word can actually be traced back to Roman times, when a 'Denarius Grossus' was a 'thick penny' (equivalent).
guinea - guinea is not a slang term, it's a proper and historical word for an amount of money equating to twenty-one shillings, or in modern sterling one pound five pence. See the guinea history above.
half, half a bar/half a sheet/half a nicker - ten shillings (10/-), from the 1900s, and to a lesser degree after decimalisation, fifty pence (50p), based on the earlier meanings of bar and sheet for a pound. Half is also used as a logical prefix for many slang words which mean a pound, to form a slang expresion for ten shillings and more recently fifty pence (50p), for example and most popularly, 'half a nicker', 'half a quid', etc. The use of the word 'half' alone to mean 50p seemingly never gaught on, unless anyone can confirm otherwise.
half a crown - two shillings and sixpence (2/6), and more specifically the 2/6 coin. Not actually slang, more an informal and extremely common pre-decimalisation term used as readily as 'two-and-six' in referring to that amount. Equivalent to 12½p in decimal money.
half a dollar - slang for the half-crown coin (i.e., two-and-sixpence, 2/6, two-shillings and sixpence) - early and mid 1900s slang based on the 'dollar' slang for five shillings. Five shillings was not a currency coin at that time, instead it was a variously designed commemorative coin. Five shillings equated loosely to the value of a US dollar at that time. (Thanks Raymond Lewis for confirming that: "...In the years following the second world war [1939-45] I recall two-and-sixpence was referred to as 'half a dollar', there being four US dollars to the pound for many years, so that a dollar equivalent in UK was five shillings; 2s/6d being half of five shillings. Our family [Merseysiders] and our family in Manchester always used this term...")
handbag - money, late 20th century.
handful - five pounds (£5), 20th century, derived simply by association to the five digits on a hand.
harold - five pounds (£5) - usually a five pound note - derived from 1970s soul band Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, because the five pound note was traditionally very blue. (Thanks S Faber)
hog - confusingly a shilling (1/-) or a sixpence (6d) or a half-crown (2/6), dating back to the 1600s in relation to shilling. Hog also extended to US 10c and dollar coins, apparently, according to Cassells because coins carried a picture of a pig. I suspect different reasons for the British coins, but have yet to find them.
jack - a pound, and earlier (from the 1600s), a farthing. Perhaps based on jack meaning a small thing, although there are many possible different sources. Jack is much used in a wide variety of slang expressions.
jacks - five pounds, from cockney rhyming slang: jack's alive = five. Not used in the singular for in this sense, for example a five pound note would be called a 'jacks'.
job - guinea, late 1600s, probably ultimately derived from from the earlier meaning of the word job, a lump or piece (from 14th century English gobbe), which developed into the work-related meaning of job, and thereby came to have general meaning of payment for work, including specific meaning of a guinea. 'Half a job' was half a guinea.
joey - much debate about this: According to my information (1894 Brewer, and the modern Cassell's, Oxford, Morton, and various other sources) Joey was originally, from 1835 or 1836 a silver fourpenny piece called a groat (Brewer is firm about this), and this meaning subsequently transferred to the silver threepenny piece (Cassell's, Oxford, and Morton). I'm convinced these were the principal and most common usages of the Joey coin slang. Cassell's says Joey was also used for the brass-nickel threepenny bit, which was introduced in 1937, although as a child in South London the 1960s I cannot remember the threepenny bit ever being called a Joey, and neither can my Mum or Dad, who both say a Joey in London was a silver threepence and nothing else (although they'd be too young to remember groats...). I'm informed however (ack Stuart Taylor, Dec 2006) that Joey was indeed slang for the brass-nickel threepenny bit among children of the Worcester area in the period up to decimalisation in 1971, so as ever, slang is subject to regional variation. There was some transference of the Joey slang to the sixpence (tanner) some time after the silver threepenny coin changed to the brass threepenny bit (which was during the 1930-40s), and this would have been understandable because the silver sixpence was similar to the silver threepence, albeit slightly larger. There is also a view that Joey transferred from the threepenny bit to the sixpence when the latter became a more usual minimum fare in London taxi-cabs. So although the fourpenny groat and the silver threepenny coin arguably lay the major claim to the Joey title, usage also seems to have extended to later coins, notably the silver sixpence (tanner) and the brass-nickel threepenny bit. The Joey slang word seems reasonably certainly to have been named after the politician Joseph Hume (1777-1855), who advocated successfully that the fourpenny groat be reintroduced, which it was in 1835 or 1836, chiefly to foil London cab drivers (horse driven ones in those days) in their practice of pretending not to have change, with the intention of extorting a bigger tip, particularly when given two shillings for a two-mile fare, which at the time cost one shilling and eight-pence. The re-introduction of the groat thus enabled many customers to pay the exact fare, and so the cab drivers used the term Joey as a derisory reference for the fourpenny groats.
And some further clarification and background:
- Brewer says that the 'modern groat was introduced in 1835, and withdrawn in 1887'. He was referring to the fact that the groat's production ceased from 1662 and then restarted in 1835, (or 1836 according to other sources). This coincides with the view that Hume re-introduced the groat to counter the cab drivers' scam.
- Silver threepenny coins were first introduced in the mid-1500s but were not popular nor minted in any serious quantity for general circulation until around 1760, because people preferred the fourpenny groat. The silver threepence was effectively replaced with introduction of the brass-nickel threepenny bit in 1937, through to 1945, which was the last minting of the silver threepence coin. The silver threepence continued in circulation for several years after this, and I read here of someone receiving one in their change as late as 1959.
- The brass-nickel threepenny bit was minted up until 1970 and this lovely coin ceased to be legal tender at decimalisation in 1971. As a matter of interest, in Nov 2004 a mint condition 1937 threepenny bit was being offered for sale by London Bloomsbury coin dealers and auctioneers Spink, with a guide price of £37,000. Wow.
- The silver sixpence was produced from 1547-1970, and remained in circulation (although by then it was a copper-based and nickel-coated coin) after decimalisation as the two-and-a-half-pee, until withdrawal in 1980.
- I was sent this additional clarification about the silver threepenny piece (thanks C Mancini, Dec 2007) provided by Joseph Payne, Assistant Curator of the Royal Mint: "... Along with the silver crown, half-crown and sixpence, the silver threepence made its first appearance in 1551 during the reign of Edward VI (1547-53). Silver threepences were last issued for circulation in the United Kingdom in 1941 but the final pieces to be sent overseas for colonial use were dated 1944. Once the issue of silver threepences in the United Kingdom had ceased there was a tendency for the coins to be hoarded and comparatively few were ever returned to the Royal Mint. The coin was not formally demonetised until 31 August 1971 at the time of decimalisation."
k/K - a thousand (£1,000 or $1,000). From the 1960s, becoming widely used in the 1970s. Plural uses singular form. 'K' has now mainly replaced 'G' in common speech and especially among middle and professional classes. While some etymology sources suggest that 'k' (obviously pronounced 'kay') is from business-speak and underworld language derived from the K abbreviation of kilograms, kilometres, I am inclined to prefer the derivation (suggested to me by Terry Davies) that K instead originates from computer-speak in the early 1970s, from the abbreviation of kilobytes. For Terry's detailed and fascinating explanation of the history of K see the ' K' entry on the cliches and words origins page.
kibosh/kybosh - eighteen pence (i.e., one and six, 1/6, one shilling and sixpence), related to and perhaps derived from the mid-1900s meaning of kibosh for an eighteen month prison sentence. Cassells implies an interesting possible combination of the meanings kibosh (18 month sentence), kibosh (meaning ruin or destroy) - both probably derived from Yiddish (Jewish European/Hebrew dialect) words meaning suppress - with the linking of money and hitting something, as in 'a fourpenny one' (from rhyming slang fourpenny bit = hit). All very vague and confusing. Whatever, kibosh meant a shilling and sixpence (1/6). Like so much slang, kibosh trips off the tongue easily and amusingly, which would encourage the extension of its use from prison term to money.
kick - sixpence (6d), from the early 1700s, derived purely from the lose rhyming with six (not cockney rhyming slang), extending to and possible preceded and prompted by the slang expression 'two and a kick' meaning half a crown, i.e., two shillings and sixpence, commonly expressed as 'two and six', which is a more understandable association.
knicker - distortion of 'nicker', meaning £1. See entry under 'nicker'. See also 'pair of knickers'.
lady/Lady Godiva - fiver (five pounds, £5) cockney rhyming slang, and like many others in this listing is popular in London and the South East of England, especially East London. See also the very clever 'commodore' above. (Thanks Simon Ladd, June 2007)
lolly - money. More popular in the 1960s than today. Precise origin unknown. Possibly rhyming slang linking lollipop to copper.
long-tailed 'un/long-tailed finnip - high value note, from the 1800s and in use to the late 1900s. Earlier 'long-tailed finnip' meant more specifically ten pounds, since a finnip was five pounds (see fin/finny/finnip) from Yiddish funf meaning five. There seems no explanation for long-tailed other than being a reference to extended or larger value.
macaroni - twenty-five pounds (£25). Cockney rhyming slang for pony.
madza caroon - half-a-crown (2/6) from the mid 1800s. A combination of medza, a corruption of Italian mezzo meaning half, and a mispronunciation or interpretation of crown. Madza caroon is an example of 'ligua franca' slang which in this context means langauge used or influenced by foreigners or immigrants, like a sort of pidgin or hybrid English-foreign slang, in this case mixed with Italian, which logically implies that much of the early usage was in the English Italian communities. Mezzo/madza was and is potentially confused with, and popularity supported by, the similar 'motsa' (see motsa entry).
madza poona - half-sovereign, from the mid 1800s, for the same reasons as madza caroon.
maggie/brass maggie - a pound coin (£1) - apparently used in South Yorkshire UK - the story is that the slang was adopted during the extremely acrimonious and prolonged miners' strike of 1984 which coincided with the introduction of the pound coin. Margaret Thatcher acted firmly and ruthlessly in resisting the efforts of the miners and the unions to save the pit jobs and the British coalmining industry, reinforcing her reputation for exercising the full powers of the state, creating resentment among many. When the pound coin appeared it was immediately christened a 'Maggie', based seemingly on the notion that it was '...a brassy piece that thinks it's a sovereign..." (ack J Jamieson, Sep 2007) If you have more detail about where and when this slang arose and is used, please let me know. I am grateful to J Briggs for confirming (March 2008): "...I live in Penistone, South Yorks (what we call the West Riding) and it was certainly called a 'Brass Maggie' in my area. Typically in a derisive way, such as 'I wouldn't give you a brass maggie for that' for something overpriced but low value. It never really caught on and has died out now..." And additionally (thanks A Volk) "...living in the UK in 1983-84 I heard that the newly introduced pound coin was the Maggie because it was 'hard, rough edged, and pretends to be a sovereign...' " Also (thanks M Wilson) "I remember the joke about the pound coin being a 'maggie... it's hard, brassy, unpopular, and thinks it's a sovereign...' ''
marygold/marigold - a million pounds (£1,000,000). English slang referenced by Brewer in 1870, origin unclear, possibly related to the Virgin Mary, and a style of church windows featuring her image.
McGarrett - fifty pounds (£50). Initially London slang, especially for a fifty pound note. McGarret refers cunningly and amusingly to the popular US TV crime series Hawaii Five-0 and its fictional head detective Steve McGarrett, played by Jack Lord. The series was made and aired originally between 1968 and 1980 and developed a lasting cult following, not least due to the very cool appeal of the McGarrett character. Steve McGarrett was given the legendary line (every week virtually) "Book 'em Danno," - or "Book him Danno," - depending on the number of baddies they caught. Danno (Detective Danny Williams, played by James MacArthur) was McGarrett's unfailingly loyal junior partner. For the record, the other detectives were called Chin Ho Kelly (the old guy) and Kono Kalakaua (the big guy), played by Kam Fong and Zulu, both of which seem far better character names, but that's really the way it was. (Thanks L Cunliffe)
medza/medzer/medzes/medzies/metzes/midzers - money. Other variations occur, including the misunderstanding of these to be 'measures', which has become slang for money in its own right. These slang words for money are most likely derived from the older use of the word madza, absorbed into English from Italian mezzo meaning half, which was used as a prefix in referring to half-units of coinage (and weights), notably medza caroon (half-crown), madza poona (half-sovereign) and by itself, medza meaning a ha'penny (½d). Potentially confused with and supported by the origins and use of similar motsa (see motsa entry).
measures - money, late 20th century, most likely arising from misunderstanding medzas and similar variants, particularly medza caroon (hal-crown) and medza meaning a half-penny (ha'penny, i.e., ½d).
meg - a thrupenny bit (3d) - and earlier (from the 1700s) also as megg, mag, magg, meag, general slang for various coins including first a ha'penny (½d) or a guinea, later a penny (1d), and in the US a dollar and a cent. Related, the verb, to meg, meant to swindle or cheat, from the 1800s. (Thanks P McCormack, who informed me that meg was Liverpool slang for a thrupenny bit.)
melvin - five pounds (£5) - see harold - based on association with soul band Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes (the five pound note was very blue in the 1960s-70s). (Thanks S Faber)
mill - a million dollars or a million pounds. Interestingly mill is also a non-slang technical term for a tenth of a USA cent, or one-thousandth of a dollar, which is an accounts term only - there is no coinage for such an amount. The word mill is derived simply from the Latin 'millisimus' meaning a thousandth, and is not anything to do with the milled edge of a coin.
monkey - five hundred pounds (£500). Probably London slang from the early 1800s. Origin unknown. Like the 'pony' meaning £25, it is suggested by some that the association derives from Indian rupee banknotes featuring the animal.
moola - money. Variations on the same theme are moolah, mola, mulla. Modern slang from London, apparently originating in the USA in the 1930s. Probably related to 'motsa' below.
motsa/motsah/motzer - money. Popular Australian slang for money, now being adopted elsewhere. Variations on the same theme are motser, motzer, motza, all from the Yiddish (Jewish European/Hebrew dialect) word 'matzah', the unleavened bread originally shaped like a large flat disk, but now more commonly square (for easier packaging and shipping), eaten at Passover, which suggests earliest origins could have been where Jewish communities connected with English speakers, eg., New York or London (thanks G Kahl). Popularity is supported (and probably confused also) with 'lingua franca' medza/madza and the many variations around these, which probably originated from a different source, namely the Italian mezzo, meaning half (as in madza poona = half sovereign).
ned - a guinea. A slang word used in Britain and chiefly London from around 1750-1850. Ned was seemingly not pluralised when referring to a number of guineas, eg., 'It'll cost you ten ned..' A half-ned was half a guinea. (see the notes about guineas). The slang ned appears in at least one of Bruce Alexander's Blind Justice series of books (thanks P Bostock for raising this) set in London's Covent Garden area and a period of George III's reign from around 1760 onwards. It is conceivable that the use also later transferred for a while to a soverign and a pound, being similar currency units, although I'm not aware of specific evidence of this. The ned slang word certainly transferred to America, around 1850, and apparently was used up to the 1920s. In the US a ned was a ten dollar gold coin, and a half-ned was a five dollar coin. Precise origin of the word ned is uncertain although it is connected indirectly (by Chambers and Cassells for example) with a straightforward rhyming slang for the word head (conventional cockney rhyming slang is slightly more complex than this), which seems plausible given that the monarch's head appeared on guinea coins. Ned was traditionally used as a generic name for a man around these times, as evidenced by its meaning extending to a thuggish man or youth, or a petty criminal (US), and also a reference (mainly in the US) to the devil, (old Ned, raising merry Ned, etc). These, and the rhyming head connection, are not factual origins of how ned became a slang money term; they are merely suggestions of possible usage origin and/or reinforcement.
net gen - ten shillings (10/-), backslang, see gen net.
nevis/neves - seven pounds (£7), 20th century backslang, and earlier, 1800s (usually as 'nevis gens') seven shillings (7/-).
nicker - a pound (£1). Not pluralised for a number of pounds, eg., 'It cost me twenty nicker..' From the early 1900s, London slang, precise origin unknown. Possibly connected to the use of nickel in the minting of coins, and to the American slang use of nickel to mean a $5 dollar note, which at the late 1800s was valued not far from a pound. In the US a nickel is more commonly a five cent coin. A nicker bit is a one pound coin, and London cockney rhyming slang uses the expression 'nicker bits' to describe a case of diarrhoea.
nugget/nuggets - a pound coin (£1) or money generally. The older nuggets meaning of money obviously alludes to gold nuggets and appeared first in the 1800s. Much more recently (thanks G Hudson) logically since the pound coin was introduced in the UK in the 1990s with the pound note's withdrawal, nugget seems to have appeared as a specific term for a pound coin, presumably because the pound coin is golden (actually more brassy than gold) and 'nuggety' in feel. Please let me know if you can add more detail about the use of nugget meaning pound coin.
oner - (pronounced 'wunner'), commonly now meaning one hundred pounds; sometimes one thousand pounds, depending on context. In the 1800s a oner was normally a shilling, and in the early 1900s a oner was one pound.
oncer - (pronounced 'wunser'), a pound , and a simple variation of 'oner'. From the early 1900s, and like many of these slang words popular among Londoners (ack K Collard) from whom such terms spread notably via City traders and also the armed forces during the 2nd World War.
oxford - five shillings (5/-), also called a crown, from cockney rhyming slang oxford scholar = dollar, dollar being slang for a crown.
pair of nickers/pair of knickers/pair o'nickers - two pounds (£2), an irresistible pun.
penny-ha'penny/penny-ayp'ney - (1½d) one-and-a-half pennies - no coin existed for this amount, although it was a common and not unreasonable pre-decimal sweetshop total for a typical child on a budget, given that weekly pocket money in those days was for many children thruppence, or sixpence if you were lucky. (Thanks V)
plum - One hundred thousand pounds (£100,000). As referenced by Brewer in 1870. Seemingly no longer used. Origin unknown, although I received an interesting suggestion (thanks Giles Simmons, March 2007) of a possible connection with Jack Horner's plum in the nursery rhyme. The Jack Horner nursery rhyme is seemingly based on the story of Jack Horner, a steward to the Bishop of Glastonbury at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries (16th century), who was sent to Henry VIII with a bribe consisting of the deeds to twelve important properties in the area. Horner, so the story goes, believing the bribe to be a waste of time, kept for himself the best (the 'plum') of these properties, Mells Manor (near Mells, Frome, Somerset), in which apparently Horner's descendents still lived until quite recently. The Bishop was not so fortunate - he was hung drawn and quartered for remaining loyal to the Pope. If you have any more information about this possible 'plum' connection please let me know.
pony - twenty-five pounds (£25). From the late 18th century according to most sources, London slang, but the precise origin is not known. Also expressed in cockney rhyming slang as 'macaroni'. It is suggested by some that the pony slang for £25 derives from the typical price paid for a small horse, but in those times £25 would have been an unusually high price for a pony. Others have suggested that an Indian twenty-five rupee banknote featured a pony. Another suggestion (Ack P Bessell) is that pony might derive from the Latin words 'legem pone', which (according to the etymology source emtymonline.com) means, "........ 'payment of money, cash down,' [which interpretation apparently first appeared in] 1573, from first two words [and also the subtitle] of the fifth division of Psalm cxix [Psalm 119, verses 33 to 48, from the Bible's Old Testament], which begins the psalms at Matins on the 25th of the month; consequently associated with March 25, a quarter day in the old financial calendar, when payments and debts came due...." The words 'Legem pone' do not translate literally into monetary meaning, in the Psalm they words actully seem to equate to 'Teach me..' which is the corresponding phrase in the King James edition of the Bible. Other suggestions connecting the word pony with money include the Old German word 'poniren' meaning to pay, and a strange expression from the early 1800s, "There's no touching her, even for a poney [sic]," which apparently referred to a widow, Mrs Robinson, both of which appear in a collection of 'answers to correspondents' sent by readers and published by the Daily Mail in the 1990s.
poppy - money. Cockney rhyming slang, from 'poppy red' = bread, in turn from 'bread and honey' = money.
quarter - five shillings (5/-) from the 1800s, meaning a quarter of a pound. More recently (1900s) the slang 'a quarter' has transfered to twenty-five pounds.
quid - one pound (£1) or a number of pounds sterling. Plural uses singular form, eg., 'Fifteen quid is all I want for it..', or 'I won five hundred quid on the horses yesterday..'. The slang money expression 'quid' seems first to have appeared in late 1600s England, derived from Latin (quid meaning 'what', as in 'quid pro quo' - 'something for something else'). Other intriguing possible origins/influences include a suggested connection with the highly secretive Quidhampton banknote paper-mill, and the term quid as applied (ack D Murray) to chewing tobacco, which are explained in more detail under quid in the cliches, words and slang page.
readies - money, usually banknotes. Simply derived from the expression 'ready cash' or 'ready money'. Earlier usage, now far less common, was just 'ready' or 'the ready'.
revif - five pounds (£5), backslang for fiver.
rhino - £250, apparently in the Worcester area, (ack S Taylor). Cassells suggests rhino (also ryno and rino) meant money in the late 1600s, perhaps alluding to the value of the creature for the illicit aphrodisiac trade. I am informed (thanks S London) that the term rhino appears in American author Washington Irving's story The Devil and Tom Walker, which is set in 1730s New England, published in 1824. Here rhino refers to a large sum of money, not a specific amount. Let me know if you have other details about rhino money slang.
rofe - four pounds (£4), backslang, also meaning a four year prison term, which usage dates back to the mid-1800s. Such a long time ago the rofe money slang more likely would have meant fourpence rather than four pounds, much like the trend for other slang to transfer from pennies to pounds, as the money used by ordinary people shifts with inflation to the higher values.
saucepan - a pound, late 1800s, cockney rhyming slang: saucepan lid = quid.
score - twenty pounds (£20). From the 1900s, simply from the word 'score' meaning twenty, derived apparently from the ancient practice of counting sheep in lots of twenty, and keeping tally by cutting ('scoring') notches into a stick.
shekels/sheckles - money. Not always, but often refers to money in coins, and can also refer to riches or wealth. From the Hebrew word and Israeli monetary unit 'shekel' derived in Hebrew from the silver coin 'sekel' in turn from the word for weight 'sakal'.
seymour - salary of £100,000 a year - media industry slang - named after Geoff Seymour (1947-2009) the advertising copywriter said to have been the first in his profession to command such a wage. Seymour created the classic 1973 Hovis TV advert featuring the baker's boy delivering bread from a bike on an old cobbled hill in a North England town, to the theme of Dvorak's New World symphony played by a brass band. The actual setting was in fact Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Dorset. Incidentally the Hovis bakery was founded in 1886 and the Hovis name derives from Latin, Hominis Vis, meaning 'strength of man'. The 1973 advert's artistic director was Ridley Scott.
shilling - a silver or silver coloured coin worth twelve pre-decimalisation pennies (12d). From Old High German 'skilling'. Similar words for coins and meanings are found all over Europe. The original derivation was either from Proto-Germanic 'skell' meaning to sound or ring, or Indo-European 'skell' split or divide. Some think the root might be from Proto-Germanic 'skeld', meaning shield.
shrapnel - loose change, especially a heavy and inconvenient pocketful, as when someone repays a small loan in lots of coins. The expression came into use with this meaning when wartime sensitivities subsided around 1960-70s. Shrapnel conventionally means artillery shell fragments, so called from the 2nd World War, after the inventor of the original shrapnel shell, Henry Shrapnel, who devised a shell filled with pellets and explosive powder c.1806.
sick squid - six pounds (£6), from the late 20th century joke - see squid.
silver - silver coloured coins, typically a handful or piggy-bankful of different ones - i.e., a mixture of 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p. Commonly used in speech as 'some silver' or 'any silver', for example: "Have you got any silver for the car-park?" or What tip shall we leave?" ... "Some silver will do." In fact 'silver' coins are now made of cupro-nickel 75% copper, 25% nickel (the 20p being 84% and 16% for some reason). The slang term 'silver' in relation to monetary value has changed through time, since silver coins used to be far more valuable. In fact arguably the modern term 'silver' equates in value to 'coppers' of a couple of generations ago. Silver featured strongly in the earliest history of British money, so it's pleasing that the word still occurs in modern money slang. Interestingly also, pre-decimal coins (e.g., shillings, florins, sixpences) were minted in virtually solid silver up until 1920, when they were reduced to a still impressive 50% silver content. The modern 75% copper 25% nickel composition was introduced in 1947. Changes in coin composition necessarily have to stay ahead of economic attractions offered by the scrap metal trade. It is therefore only a matter of time before modern 'silver' copper-based coins have to be made of less valuable metals, upon which provided they remain silver coloured I expect only the scrap metal dealers will notice the difference.
simoleon/samoleon - a dollar ($1) - (also simoleons/simloons = money) - other variations meaning a dollar are sambolio, simoleum, simolion, and presumably other adaptations, first recorded in the US late 1800s, thought possibly (by Cassells) to derive from a combination or confusion of the slang words 'simon' for a sixpence (below) and 'Napoleon', a French coin worth 20 Francs. To a lesser extent and later, probably mid-1900s, simoleon also meant a five dollar bill. Simoleon is in more recent times also the currency in the Maxis 'Sims' computer games series, and while this has popularised the term, it obviously was not the origin, appropriate though it is for the Sims context. (Thanks B Jones for raising this and its pre-Sims existence.)
simon - sixpence (6d). The sixpenny piece used to be known long ago as a 'simon', possibly (ack L Bamford) through reference to the 17th century engraver at the Royal Mint, Thomas Simon. There has been speculation among etymologists that 'simon' meaning sixpence derives from an old play on words which represented biblical text that St Peter "...lodged with Simon a tanner.." as a description of a banking transaction, although Partridge's esteemed dictionary refutes this, at the same time conceding that the slang 'tanner' for sixpence might have developed or been reinforced by the old joke. See 'tanner' below.
sir isaac - one pound (£1) - used in Hampshire (Southern England) apparently originating from the time when the one pound note carried a picture of Sir Isaac Newton. I'd welcome any feedback as to usage of this slang beyond Hampshire, (thanks M Ty-Wharton).
sky/sky diver - five pounds (£5), 20th century cockney rhyming slang.
smackers/smackeroos - pounds (or dollars) - in recent times not usually used in referring to a single £1 or a low amount, instead usually a hundred or several hundreds, but probably not several thousands, when grand would be preferred. Smackers (1920s) and smackeroos (1940s) are probably US extensions of the earlier English slang smack/smacks (1800s) meaning a pound note/notes, which Cassells slang dictionary suggests might be derived from the notion of smacking notes down onto a table.
sobs - pounds. Mispronunciation of sovs, short for sovereigns. An example of erroneous language becoming real actual language through common use. (Thanks to R Maguire for raising this one.)
sovs - pounds. Short for sovereigns - very old gold and the original one pound coins. For example 'Lend us twenty sovs..' Sov is not generally used in the singular for one pound. Mispronounced by some as 'sobs'.
spondulicks/spondoolicks - money. Pronunciation emphasises the long 'doo' sound. Various other spellings, e.g., spondulacks, spondulics. Normally refers to notes and a reasonable amount of spending money. The spondulicks slang can be traced back to the mid-1800s in England (source: Cassells), but is almost certainly much older. Spondoolicks is possibly from Greek, according to Cassells - from spondulox, a type of shell used for early money. Cassells also suggests possible connection with 'spondylo-' referring to spine or vertebrae, based on the similarity between a stack of coins and a spine, which is referenced in etymologist Michael Quinion's corespondence with a Doug Wilson, which cites the reference to piled coins (and thereby perhaps the link to sponylo/spine) thus: "Spondulics - coin piled for counting..." from the 1867 book A Manual of the Art of Prose Composition: For the Use of Colleges and Schools, by John Mitchell Bonnell. (Thanks R Maguire for prompting more detail for this one.)
sprazi/sprazzy - sixpence (6d). A variation of sprat, see below.
sprat/spratt - sixpence (6d). From the 1800s, by association with the small fish.
squid - a pound (£1). Not normally pluralised, still expressed as 'squid', not squids, e.g., 'Fifty squid'. The most likely origin of this slang expression is from the joke (circa 1960-70s) about a shark who meets his friend the whale one day, and says, "I'm glad I bumped into you - here's that sick squid I owe you.."
stiver/stuiver/stuyver - an old penny (1d). Stiver also earlier referred to any low value coin. Stiver was used in English slang from the mid 1700s through to the 1900s, and was derived from the Dutch Stiver coin issued by the East India Company in the Cape (of South Africa), which was the lowest East India Co monetary unit. There were twenty Stivers to the East India Co florin or gulden, which was then equal to just over an English old penny (1d). (source Cassells)
strike - a sovereign (early 1700s) and later, a pound, based on the coin minting process which is called 'striking' a coin, so called because of the stamping process used in making coins.
swy/swi - two shillings (especially florin coin). From the 1920s, derived from the German swei, an English pronunciation of the German word (swy, instead of svy), conceivably adopted into English slang following exposure of soldiers to the German language in World War One. Also used in Australia. Also refers generally to the number two. (Thanks S Johnson)
tanner - sixpence (6d). The slang word 'tanner' meaning sixpence dates from the early 1800s and is derived most probably from Romany gypsy 'tawno' meaning small one, and Italian 'danaro' meaning small change. The 'tanner' slang was later reinforced (Ack L Bamford) via jocular reference to a biblical extract about St Peter lodging with Simon, a tanner of hides (hence the Tanner surname, which referred to the job of converting animal skin into leather by soaking it in tannic acid, derived from bark, or gall or bile from animals). The biblical text (from Acts chapter 10 verse 6) is: "He (Peter) lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side..", which was construed by jokers as banking transaction instead of a reference to overnight accommodation. Below in more money history Nick Ratnieks suggests the tanner was named after a Master of the Mint of that name. A further suggestion (ack S Kopec) refers to sixpence being connected with pricing in the leather trade. I have no other evidence of this and if anyone has any more detail relating to the derivation of the tanner please send it. An obscure point of nostalgic trivia about the tanner is (thanks J Veitch) a rhyme, from around the mid-1900s, sung to the tune of Rule Britannia: "Rule Brittania, two tanners make a bob, three make eighteen pence and four two bob " I am informed also since mentioning this here (thanks to the lady from London) who recalls her father signing the rhyme in the 1950s, in which the words 'one-and-sixpence' were used instead of 'eighteen pence'. If you remember more please tell me. Additionally, coincidentally or perhaps influentially, (thanks R Andrews) apparently British people in colonial India (broadly from about 1850 until India's independence in 1947) referred to a half rupee (eight annas) coin as 'eightanna', which obviously sounds just like 'a tanner'. The eight anna coin is said to have resembled the British sixpence of the time (which would have looked much like a pre-decimalisation sixpence). Britain issued India's coins during colonial rule and so some connection here is plausible. Incidentally, at the end of the 1800s the Indian silver rupee equated to one shilling and fourpence in British currency, or fifteen rupees to one pound sterling. The anna was effectively discontinued when India decimalised its currency in 1957.
tenner - ten pounds (£10).
ten bob bit - fifty pence piece (50p) - a somewhat rare and odd example of old money slang (both 'ten bob', and 'bit') adapting and persisting into modern times. The 50p coin was issued in 1967 to replace the 10/- note (ten shillings, or 'ten-bob note') at which the 10/- note was withdrawn. (This is the odd aspect..) The 1967 issue of the 50p coin was four years before decimalisation, and therefore also four years before the change of the currency/terminology to 'new pence'. So from 1967-71 the 50p coin was officially called ten shillings, hence 'ten-bob bit'. Prior to this there had never been a ten shilling coin, and we might wonder if the term 'ten-bob bit' would ever have emerged if the 50p coin had not been issued under such oddly premature circumstances. Of course the 'ten shilling coin' was officially renamed the '50p coin' when decimalisation happened in 1971, but happily the 'ten-bob bit' slang persisted and is still heard very occasionally today. Incidentally this pre-decimal issue of 'new pence' coins acting as 'old pence' money also applied to shillings (1/-) and florins (2/-)... From 1967 shillings were minted as 5p coins, and two-shillings as 10p coins, however since same-sized pre-decimalisation equivalent shilling and two-shilling coins already existed there was not a marked clash of nomenclature, and or new slang, as arose for the 'ten-bob bit. Separately the word 'bit' has long been slang for different forms of money, usually small coins, and notably in predecimal currency applied also to the 'thruppeny bit' and 'two-bob bit', but generally not to other coinage of the times. See 'bit'. (Thanks to T Casey for helping clarify this.)
sixpence (6d) - from the late 1500s up to the 1920s. Rare since then. A teston
was originally a French silver coin, struck at Milan by (for) the Duke of
Milan, Galeazzo Mario (Maria) Sforza (1468-76), bearing his head. Teston is
derived from Latin testa, meaning head. Later (mid-1500s) the word teston was
applied to other Italian and French coinage. In England the name teston (also
testoon*) was first used for the Henry VII (reigned 1485-1509) shilling, the
first English coin to carry a true portrait. The term continued for equivalent
coins of Henry VII and Edward VI, during which time the coin reduced in value
from twelve pence to six pence and lower (values were less fixed then than
now). By the late 1500s the distorted slang term tester (alongside variations
above) had developed, coinciding with the coin's depreciation and debasing of
the metal, so that tester became specific slang for a sixpennny piece.
Interestingly the slang word tester was also later adopted (notably in
Australian slang, mid-1800s to 1940s) to mean twenty-five strokes of the lash.
Other coin slang words were similarly adopted (mid 1800s) equating to different
levels of punishment, associated with maritime service, deportation and prison,
such as bob (a shilling - 50 strokes), bull (five shillings - 75 strokes),
canary (a guinea or sovereign - 100 strokes). The number of strokes did not
match the coin denominations, but there is an obvious rising scale of violence
correlation between relative values. The word tester (just sixpence, and just
25 strokes) no doubt appealed because of its additional ironic meaning in this
context. It is tempting to imagine a connection between this sense of
entry-level physical punishment and the 1900s slang 'a sixpenny one' meaning a
single punch in the face or around the ear, often following a warning to
dispense such retribution. (Sources mainly OEDs and Cassells. Thanks J
* The 'oon' ending of testoon was a common suffix for French words adapted into English, such as balloon, buffoon, spitoon, dragoon, cartoon.
thick'un/thick one - a crown (5/-) or a sovereign, from the mid 1800s.
three ha'pence/three haypence - 1½d (one and a half old pennies) - this lovely expression (thanks Dean) did not survive decimalisation, despite there being new decimal half-pence coins. In fact the term was obsolete before 1971 decimalisation when the old ha'penny (½d) was removed from the currency in 1969. Alternatively three ha'pence was called and written 'a penny-ha'penny' or 'a penny-haypenny', or by Londoners 'a penny-aypny' (thanks V).
thrupence/threpence/thrupenny bit/thrupny bit - the pre-decimalization threepenny coin (3d), or before that (1937) referred to the silver threepenny coin. These spellings are the most popular slang/shortenings, most recently referring to the 'three-penny bit', less commonly called 'threepenny piece', the lovely nickel-brass (brass coloured) twelve-sided three-penny coin, introduced in 1937 to replace the preceding smaller silver 'threppence' or 'thrupny piece/bit' or 'joey' initially when the thrupny bit was first minted in 1937, and fully in 1945 when the silver threepence was withdrawn. See joey for detail about the silver thrupence, was also called a thrupny bit, and for a lot longer than the brass version, although not many would remember those times. The brass thrupny bit was withdrawn just prior to decimalization in 1971. See also the origins and other coin uses of the word bit - the word was used for other coins long ago. You will see other variations of spellings such as threp'ny, thrup'ny, thruppence, threpny, etc. Where the version ends with 'pny' (shortening of penny) it would always be followed by the 'bit' suffix. (Thanks I Harrison for suggesting this obvious omission.)
tickey/ticky/tickie/tiki/tikki/tikkie - ticky or tickey was an old pre-decimal British silver threepenny piece (3d, equating loosely to 1¼p). The tickey slang was in use in 1950s UK (in Birmingham for example, thanks M Bramich), although the slang is more popular in South Africa, from which the British usage seems derived. In South Africa the various spellings refer to a SA threepenny piece, and now the equivalent SA post-decimalisation 2½ cents coin. South African tickey and variations - also meaning 'small' - are first recorded in the 19th century from uncertain roots (according to Partridge and Cassells) - take your pick: African distorted interpretation of 'ticket' or 'threepenny'; from Romany tikeno and tikno (meaning small); from Dutch stukje (meaning a little bit); from Hindustani taka (a stamped silver coin); and/or from early Portuguese 'pataca' and French 'patac' (meaning what?.. Partridge doesn't say). Additionally (thanks K Gibbs) apparently the word 'tickey' has specific origins in the SA Cape Malay community, said to derive from early Malaccan slaves who brought with them a charm called a 'Tickey'. Furthermore (thanks R Rickett) in 1960-70s South Africa the extra inner right front 'watch' or 'fob' pocket on a pair of jeans, popularized by Levi, was called a 'ticky pocket', being where pocket money was kept. Let me know if you can add any further clarity to the history of ticky, tickey, etc.
tin - first recorded (says Cassells) as slang for money in the UK, mainly for silver coinage, in the mid 1800s, although the term seems to have become largely obscure by the 1960s. In the US meanwhile, tin came to mean a trifling or small amount of money by about 1920. (Thanks C Nethercroft)
tom/tom mix - six pounds (£6), 20th century cockney rhyming slang, (Tom Mix = six). Tom Mix was a famous cowboy film star from 1910-1940. Tom Mix initially meant the number six (and also fix, as in difficult situation or state of affairs), and extended later in the 1900s to mean six pounds.
ton - commonly one hundred pounds (£100). Not generally pluralised. From the fact that a ton is a measurement of 100 cubic feet of capacity (for storage, loading, etc). In the same way a ton is also slang for 100 runs in cricket, or a speed of 100 miles per hour. Logically 'half a ton' is slang for £50.
tony benn - ten pounds (£10), or a ten pound note - cockney rhyming slang derived from the Labour MP and government minister Anthony Wedgwood Benn, popularly known as Tony Benn. Tony Benn (born 1925) served in the Wilson and Callaghan governments of the 1960s and 70s, and as an MP from 1950-2001, after which he remains (at time of writing this, Feb 2008) a hugely significant figure in socialist ideals and politics, and a very wise and impressive man.
tosheroon/tusheroon/tosh/tush/tusseroon - half-a-crown (2/6) from the mid-1900s, and rarely also slang for a crown (5/-), most likely based in some way on madza caroon ('lingua franca' from mezzo crown), perhaps because of the rhyming, or some lost cockney rhyming rationale.
tray/trey - three pounds, and earlier threpence (thruppeny bit, 3d), ultimately from the Latin tres meaning three, and especially from the use of tray and trey for the number three in cards and dice games.
two and a kick - half a crown (2/6), from the early 1700s, based on the basic (not cockney) rhyming with 'two and six'.
wad - money. Usually meaning a large amount of spending money held by a person when out enjoying themselves. London slang from the 1980s, derived simply from the allusion to a thick wad of banknotes. Popularity of this slang word was increased by comedian Harry Enfield.
wampum - money - from native American Indian language referring to polished shells or beads currency.
wedge - nowadays 'a wedge' a pay-packet amount of money, although the expression is apparently from a very long time ago when coins were actually cut into wedge-shaped pieces to create smaller money units.
wonga - money. Less common variations on the same theme: wamba, wanga, or womba. Modern London slang. Probably from Romany gypsy 'wanga' meaning coal. The large Australian 'wonga' pigeon is almost certainly unrelated...
yard - a thousand million (pounds sterling, dollars or euros). (Thanks P Lindsey) Yard here is a slang shortening of milliard, an old (1700s) English word for a thousand million (1,000,000,000), originally from French, from mille, thousand. Yard may be pluralized, for example 2 yards, or two yards = 2,000,000,000. In UK/US/Arab numbering and money terminology the word milliard has been replaced by billion, but elsewhere in the world milliard is still used, and a billion refers to a million millions, not a thousand millions. This perhaps explains why the slang 'yard' has grown in popularity among people referring to such big sums, so as to clarify quickly a very large number which might otherwise easily be confused in international communications. In the world of finance obviously confusion on such a vast scale would not be helpful. See the metric prefixes page for fuller explanations of big number words, and decimals/fractions, and the differences between UK/US 'short scale' numbers, compared with European 'long scale' numbers; there are examples of even bigger numbers and different words besides milliard/billion. Apart from the modern slang meaning of yard, the word yard separately came into the US slang language in or a little before the 1920s to mean either 100 or 1,000 dollars, and in certain situations this slang persists, related to the underworld/prison slang of a custodial sentence of a hundred years.
yennep/yenep/yennap/yennop - a penny (1d particularly, although also means a decimal penny, 1p). Yennep is backslang. Backslang evolved for similar reasons as cockney rhyming slang, i.e., to enable private or secret conversation among a particular community, which in the case of backslang is generally thought initially to have been street and market traders, notably butchers and greengrocers. Backslang essentially entails reversing the sound of the word, not the strict spelling, as you can see from the yennep example. Yennep backslang seems first to have appeared along with the general use of backslang in certain communities in the 1800s.
yennaps/yennups - money. Originated in the 1800s from the backslang for penny. See yennep.
zac/zak/zack/sac - sixpence (6d) - Australian and New Zealand slang from the late 1800s for a sixpence, extending more generally to refer to money, and especially a small sum of money or a 5 cents coin. The zak slang meaning for money is also used in South Africa. Possibly derived from Scottish pronunciation and slang 'saxpence'. Like a few other money slang terms zac/zack also refers to a numerical equivalent prison sentence, in this case six months. (Thanks S Johnson)
more old money history and references
Here are some other observations about English money. I'm grateful to Nick Ratnieks for providing the opportunity to start this section. Other contributions gratefully received.
From Nick Ratnieks, Jun 2007: "I didn't spot anything on the history of the groat which was a nice little 4d silver coin I think minted until the 1830s but possibly still existing today as Maundy Money which is a section by itself [now briefly summarised above, thanks for the prompt].
You mention the florin which was an early experiment at going decimal as there were 10 to the pound. I seem to remember that the early ones left off the latin phrase 'dei gratia' and were known as 'Godless florins' and I have a feeling were withdrawn from circulation. For a short period of time in the 1880s there was a 'double florin' - 4 bob - my grandmother had one.
You mention that the lower denomination coins were copper but they were changed to bronze in the great re-coining of 1860 that led to smaller coins. There had been the old Matthew Boulton Mint 'Cartwheel Tuppences' made using James Watt's steam engines and for the colonies there were even half and I believe quarter farthings. And the Gold Noble, a stonking great third of a quid 80 pennies or 6/8d.
[And with reference to the origins of the 'tanner' slang for sixpence] ...John Sigesmund Tanner came to England from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1727 and shortly afterwards joined the Royal Mint where he worked for 40 years becoming the chief engraver...
My brother found an old Daily Mail published on February 26th 1955 and the price was written as 'three halfpence' which is rather wonderful I think! The other thing is retail pricing - I seem to remember up to a certain level shillings were used. My Tuf shoes were 49/11d - I think after that sort of price or 59/11d they tended to use £'s. Then prices in guineas - one of my friends who was a professional guitarist said his first 'decent' guitar bought for him by his dad - a Gibson Les Paul Junior was 69 guineas which is of course £72 9/-. I think there was an element of 'posh' and as I have seen ads for appliances in guineas - the desire to make it seem 'affordable' as well was part of the ruse."
(Thanks Nick Ratnieks, who later confirmed that the crazy price of the Gibson Les Paul was wrong - it was in fact 68 guineas!)
Please note that Scotland, Northern Ireland and the various islands of Britain have produced and continue to produce their own (sometimes very different) designs of coins and banknotes, which are legal tender in all of Britain. As such these different notes and coins are all British currency (even though not all shops and traders everywhere accept them, for reasons of unfamiliarity or a heightened sensitivity to the risks of forgeries).
This webpage chiefly concerns British currency issued by the Bank of England and the Royal Mint, which is legal tender everywhere in Britain, hence the use of the term British, because 'English' would actually be incorrect in this context, and unhelpfully parochial too.
Arguably a more correct description for certain sections of this article would be 'British currency issued by the Bank of England or the Royal Mint' but to keep repeating this would become a real bore, so please forgive the relatively loose use of the words Britain and British - in most situations on this page British equates to the longer phrase above.
This is not to dismiss the huge variety of wonderful designs of coins and banknotes produced by Scotland and other parts of the British Isles. I hope eventually to encompass some of this money and its related details and history on this page.
With that in mind, I'd be grateful to receive pictures or even examples of the real thing, especially high value notes if you have plenty to spare..
Send your pics of interesting and/or beautiful banknotes and coins from Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, etc., and I'll show them on this page, or even start a new section altogether.
Thanks H Camrass for raising this whole issue about British terminology and non-English coins and banknotes.For starters, here's a cute little 20p piece from Jersey (not actual size...) My son found it in his change recently. It has the Queen's head on the reverse and is dated 2005. What a lovely thing.
Suggestions and comments about money slang and origins are welcome: please send them.
Contributions are displayed below.
'readers letters' (and emails) - about money, money history and money slang
This section is for your own comments and memories about money history and money slang. Please send them.
I am grateful to J McColl for getting the ball rolling with this fine contribution (June 2008):
A mark (Anglo-Saxon 'mearc', pronounced something like mairk) was two-thirds of a pound, ie 13/4 or 160d. Lots of history and derivations from that I'm sure, not least why this system was ever used in parallel to pounds. The old Scots money was a twelfth of its sterling equivalent, so I have references in 18th-Century writings of the two being mixed, so must have been used in parallel or recently changed. So mentions will be of '12s Scots' or '1s Sterling' rather than just so many shillings. Sometimes it might say something like 2 and 1/6 pence, so you know that he's quoting in sterling but was actually using Scots (in this example 28d Scots). You mentioned 'three-ha'pence' as if it were unusual, but I used to use that a lot in buying sweets or ice cream. I also remember five pence (5d, not the modern 5p) often being pronounced fippence, and I still have to make an effort not to call £1.50 'thirty bob'. When my pocket money went up to two bob, I called it a florin. I was doing my growing in Ireland, where the money was independent but tied to sterling. We had the same range of coins as Britain's, although some were a different size and shape. The 3d was still the size of the old silver thrupence that you had before the 12-sided thing. The designs were different of course, having the harp on one side for Ireland and a range of animals on the other with the name of the coin in Irish. Pingin was a penny, scilling a shilling and so on, but I never heard anyone call them by the Irish names. Except one: the Flóirín pronounced flore-een, so I and my mates were happy to call the thing a florin when my weekly pocket money reached the dizzying heights of one of these. Another thing with an Irish childhood was the appreciation of history gained from looking at a pocketful of change that would contain pennies (and sometimes higher) from the entire previous century and longer: modern coins from the Republic, older ones that said Saorstat Eireann (Irish Free State), and ones from 'across the water' that had kings and queens from the present one, back to the very smooth and worn face of a young Victoria - yes, I had young Victoria coins. And in my primary school we learnt money. The whole class would chant our times tables with an extension all in a special sing-song way that I hear in my head as I type (I've used three dots to show a miniscule pause in the chant):
Three fives fifteen
pence one and three [ie 3x5 = 15; 15d =
Three sixes eighteen pence one and six
Three sevens twenty-one pence one and nine
And so on for the entire set up to the 12 times table!
And finally, we had a pair of expressions with identical derivations to explain someone else's slowness of uptake: he was "a bit elevenpence-ha'pny" or "not quite the full shilling" where nowadays we might refer to his being a sandwich short of a picnic. As for modern times, the Irish still refer to quids (and squids) but now mean euros. (Thanks J McColl, Jun 2008)
Thanks to D Burt for reminding me about Bob-a-Job week, which prompted a new paragraph above in the history 'pounds shillings and pennies' section. Any other Bob-a-Job recollections?..
Please send your own money history and money slang memories.
- Words, cliches and expressions origins
- Cockney Rhyming Slang
- grammar and linguistics glossary
- And for lovers of language development and curiosities see the acronyms page (which contains some adult content).
- There are some money-related ideas for team building exercises and icebreakers on the teambuilding games page.
- For fun and stress-reducing amusement see the real funny Family Fortunes Answers and other related funny content - all safe and relevant for work one way or another.
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