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A one-pound note (no longer used as currency)

Money gets used for so many different things, some legitimate, some not, that it’s no surprise that people have, over, time, developed code words for it. They’ve got code words for cash in general, code words for amounts of money, code words for having lots of money and code words for having none. Sometimes the words are used to hide transactions, sometimes to take the sting out of hard times, but as far as slang goes, money is second only to sex as a generator of slang expressions.

It’s also important to note that we changed our currency 40 years ago, from pounds, shillings and pence to a similar decimal system to yours (although we don’t give names to individual coin denominations. 10p is 10p, not a nickel or a dime). So while it’s true that no one under 45 years of age understands the old system, a lot of the old slang words have stuck around, in one form or another, like sixpence and bob. History and language, you quickly come to realise, are harder to seperate than two squids in a jam jar.

Speaking of which. You all know we call a pound a quid sometimes, right? It’s thought to be a Latin hangover, as used in the term quid pro quo (“something for something”), but no one’s entirely sure where it came from. Well of course that’s been mucked about with as well, so you’ll occasionally hear people talking about borrowing ten squids for a slap-up feed.

Mind you, we have also, on occasion, also been known to call a plurality of pounds a nicker, which has nothing to do with underwear. It’s largely faded out now, being London-based in origin, but if you listen carefully, you can still sometimes hear people moaning about having to shell out thirty nicker on, say, a parking ticket.

Then there all the terms for money in general: wonga is relatively new (and faintly cheesy), spondulicks is even worse, wedge is kind of arrogant (you’ve got enough notes to make a WEDGE?), and readies is just about acceptable, but they all mean the same thing: cash. moolah, dough, bread, cheddar, pickled onion, ploughman’s lunch.*

To have no money at all is to be skint, or boracic (where boracic lint = skint), or feeling the pinch, or stony-broke, or on your uppers.

Then there are the individual denominations, some of which have the most beautiful language attached to them. A tosheroon, for example, is one of the pre-decimal half crowns. I’ve no idea why or what a half crown actually is, but what a word! Shame it’s almost totally useless in this day and age.

Here are a few other examples, in amount order. You won’t need to know any of this in order to go shopping in Ipswich, but it’s fun nonetheless:

Any coins in your pocket: shrapnel

£1 coin: nugget, Maggie (from a satirical joke about Margaret Thatcher at the time the £1 coins came into circulation: “She’s thick, brassy, and she thinks she’s a sovereign.”)

£2 coin: double nugget, super nugget, dartboard.

£5 note: fiver, bluey (the notes are blue), lady, (Lady Godiva = fiver), rocket (they used to have a picture of Stephenson’s rocket on the back), Deep Sea Diver, Jackson (Jackson 5), flag, Melvin (brilliantly, from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes).

£10 note: tenner, browny (the notes are brown), Ayrton (Ayrton Senna = tenner, see also: Paul McKenna), Mother Hen, Pavarotti (because he’s a TENOR, see?)

And a last one from the olden days that I just love:

Sixpence: Sprarsy Anna (nope, no idea), also known as a bender, which some claim was due to the coins original silver content. You could tell it was a genuine sixpence if you could bend it in your teeth. Also, the source of the still-popular phrase going on a bender, meaning to get drunk (for a whole sixpence. Everyone was a cheap date in the past, clearly).

What British words shall we investigate next? Tell us here:

* Those last two are made up.

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Filed Under: Fraser's Phrases
By Fraser McAlpine