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Moolah, marigolds… and a macaroni!?!
By Eric Shackle
“Always try to rub against money, for if you rub against money long enough, some of it may rub off on you.” (from Damon Runyon’s story, A Very Honourable Guy).
Dough, moolah, rhino, spondulicks… there are more slang words for money than for anything else apart from sex and drink and since you may need money to obtain the other two, money should take pride of place. When it comes to places, there are villages named Penny Bridge (Cumbria), Shillingford (Devon and Oxfordshire), and Pound Bank (Worcestershire). Scotland’s smallest county, Clackmannanshire, has a village named Dollar. The map shows it’s near Dollarbank, Dollarbeg and the Burn of Sorrow.
The following British places have money names:
PENNY: Penny Bridge, Cumbria; Pennyfuir, Argyll & Bute; Pennyghael, Argyll & Bute; Pennyglen, South Ayrshire; Pennygown, Argyll & Bute; Pennymoor, Devon.
SHILLING: Shillingford, Devon; Shillingford, Oxfordshire; Shillingford St George, Devon; Shillingstone, Dorset; Shillington, Bedfordshire.
POUND: Pound Bank, Worcestershire; Pound Green, East Sussex; Pound Hill, West Sussex; Poundffald, Swansea; Poundgate, East Sussex; Poundisford Park, Somerset; Poundland, South Ayrshire; Poundon, Buckinghamshire; Poundsbridge, Kent; Poundsgate, Devon; Poundstock, Cornwall.
DOLLAR: Dollar, Clackmannanshire; Dollar Law, Scottish Borders; Dollarbeg, Clackmannanshire.
In the United States, three towns or villages are named Greenback, three are called Dollar, four Buck, and three Bucks (which is the name of counties in both the U.K. and U.S.) If you live in any of those places, you’re really in the money.
Over the centuries, the U.K. has developed a fund of colorful money slang. Witty Bristol word guru Michael Quinion (whose remarks are copied from his website with his permission) says:
“Perhaps the oldest and best established [British slang terms] are the pony and the monkey, respectively £25 and £500. Another term for £25 is macaroni, rhyming slang for pony, which was invented in the 19th century. [Another source claims the term monkey came from soldiers returning from India, where the 500 rupee note had a picture of a monkey on it. They used the term monkey for 500 rupees and on returning to England the saying was converted for sterling to mean £500.]
“£100 is a one-er, which can also mean £1,000; another, found in the US but which has not become common in Britain, is C or C-note, derived from the Roman numeral meaning 100. The relatively common US term for $1000, a grand, has become pretty well naturalised in Britain, with most people knowing what you mean by it, though it has become fashionable, at least in London, to call it a K. An alternative US form, big one, is sometimes heard.
“The most common slang term in Britain these days for a pound is quid… an older term is nicker. There are many other terms for the pound, now mostly obsolete: note (from the period when paper money was substituted for gold sovereigns), bar and smacker (presumably from the noise it made when you were counting out a sum in pound notes on a counter).
“Another obsolete term is marigold, a Victorian term for a sovereign, from the colour of the gold coin, but which in City financial circles at one time could also mean one million pounds.
“There have been lots of names for British coins in times past, such as tanner for the old sixpence, bob for a shilling; for the half-crown coin (two shillings and sixpence) there were tosheroon or half a dollar. In the 1870s, the old crown coin, five shillings, was at times called an Oxford, which is rhyming slang (Oxford scholar = dollar).
“Another term of long-standing was joey, originally a name given by cabbies to the silver Britannia groat, or fourpenny piece, which was issued in 1836, largely at the insistence of Joseph Hume, the economist and Member of Parliament, who said it would be useful for paying short cab fares and the like, but which stopped being issued in 1855, after which the name was transferred to the then silver threepenny piece instead.
“Such names for smaller sums of British money have obviously fallen out of use since the decimalisation of the currency in 1971, which rendered most of the old coins obsolete, and have not yet been replaced with new ones.
“The only one which achieved popularity was Maggie in the eighties, of the then new gold-coloured one-pound coin, because, it was said, ‘it’s brassy, two-faced and thinks it’s a sovereign’ (the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had a noticeable tendency to mimic some of the more regal characteristics of Her Majesty).
“Perhaps the nearest equivalent outside Britain is the Canadian one-dollar coin, universally called a loonie, ostensibly because of the bird pictured on one face, but more likely an expression of what people thought of the coin. (A Canadian wit claimed that as the Loonie had been such a success, the government was planning to bring out a two-dollar coin to be called a Doubloonie.)”
Michael Quinion writes a free weekly newsletter, World Wide Words, which he e-mails to more than 9000 subscribers in nearly 100 countries.
In the United States, Jed Hartman, a writer of software documentation and fiction, who lives in Mountain View, California (35 miles south of San Francisco) has for the last three years written an amusing and wide-ranging Web-based column called Words & Stuff.
He says about 20 nations today use the word dollar as their unit of currency. “The word apparently derives from taler or thaler, which in turn comes from Joachimsthal, a place in Bohemia where the taler (a silver coin) was first used… [Centuries earlier] cows were a medium of exchange, which is why the word pecuniary derives from pecu, meaning money or cattle. (To peculate, by the way, is to steal.)”
Here are other (edited) extracts from Jed’s webside (copied here with his permission):
- The 1920s and 1930s were particularly rich in American slang terms for money, some of which are still in use today. Some terms referred to money’s use in purchasing food: bacon (as in bring home), bread, dough, and so on. (One term for counterfeit money was sourdough.) Other terms referred to the green colour of American bills: cabbage, lettuce, kale, folding green, long green.
- Rhino was a term first used in 1670. I suspect that jack derives from jackpot, originally referring to the large amounts of money you could win playing a jacks-or-better poker game. Some slang money terms I have no idea of the origin of: mazuma, moolah, oscar, pap, plaster, rivets, scratch, spondulicks. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some monetary slang was invented by Damon Runyan or other writers of the time. [No, Runyan is not a misprint. Damon’s father was Alfred Lee Runyan, a storyteller and itinerant printer and publisher of smalltown newspapers. At an early age Runyan followed his father into the newspaper business. At 15 he worked for the Pueblo (Colorado) Evening Press, where he soon became a fully fledged news reporter. When a typographical slip spelt his name Runyon he decided to keep it that way. He became one of the world’s favorite short-story writers and humorists. On friendly terms with Al Capone, Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Arnold Rothstein and William Winchell, he gained fame with his tales of the gambling, racing and criminal worlds. One of his best-known works is Guys and Dolls (1932). Runyon’s style relied on Broadway slang, outrageous metaphors, and constant use of the present tense. He died in 1946, aged 62.]
- Other slang terms for a dollar include ace, bean (as in bean counter), boffo (abbreviation of box office, referring to money collected at theatres), bone, buck, bullet, case note, clam, coconut, fish, frogskin, lizard, peso, rock, scrip, simoleon, and yellowback.
- The heavy dollar coin was once known as an iron man, plug, sinker, or wagon wheel.
Most of the slang terms and definitions in Jed Hartman’s column were from a list printed in the sourcebook for “Justice, Inc.”, a role-playing game based on pulp adventure stories of the 1920s and 1930s, published by Hero Games.
© 2001 Eric Shackle ([email protected]).
This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the author.
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