Money talks: Our favourite words for money

Last week a very generous friend of mine gave me her tickets for a comedy night in London. She’d booked it but wasn’t able to attend as she had to go on a last minute trip to America, so my friend Max and I went along instead.

The comedian performing was a chap called Alex Horne who hosts a programme on BBC4 called We Need Answers and has written a book called Word Watching. His very entertaining comedy show, which has just finished touring the UK, was all about his quest to get new words into the dictionary. He has invented a number of words and phrases, such as ‘bollo’ (rubbish), ‘honest’ (fat) and ‘going on a mental safari’ (going nuts). Despite his best efforts, though, so far he has failed to persuade the Oxford English Dictionary to include these words in their next edition. But he has been slightly more successful in promoting the word ‘honk’ on TV which he uses to mean ‘money’. He managed to spell it out while competing on Countdown and it has also been used on TV by Jane McDonald on Loose Women.

While we were at the show, Horne asked members of the audience for their favourite words for money. I’d forgotten just how many different slang words there are for it. Here are just a few of them: dough, bread, shrapnel (to mean loose change), spondoolicks, folding stuff, moola, wonga, lolly, smackers, nicker, wad, wedge, not to mention all the Cockney rhyming slang words for individual amounts, such as a pony (£25 – as in ‘stick a pony in my pocket’ from the theme to Only Fools and Horses), a score (£20), a Lady Godiva (fiver), a monkey (£500) and a ton (£100). A friend tells me that he know a financial writer who uses the term ‘shed load’ to mean £100,000.

I don’t know how successful Alex Horne will be in promoting ‘honk’ as a new slang term for it among the general populace, but it fascinates me that over the centuries we have found ourselves using so many different words for money. Why is that? Is it just for fun or does giving it a different name, almost like a code word, make us feel like we have more power over it? Do the words we use change depending on our attitude towards money – ‘lolly’ seems frivolous and light-hearted but ‘bread’ could be seen as a more serious phrase because it is something we need to survive – or do the words themselves affect how we look at money? Harry Enfield’s character ‘Loadsamoney’ in the 1980s poked fun at the casual attitude towards money some people had at the time. But Enfield was thought to have become concerned in later years that the character’s careless attitude towards money was seen in too positive a light by viewers. Could the words we’ve used in the past have trivialised money and given us too lax an attitude towards it? It’s hard to know.

I wonder what new terms and phrases for cash will emerge from the recession. Will we be saying that it’s all gone a bit ‘Northern Rock’ in the future? Will a £1 coin be a ‘Darling’, an ‘Osborne’ or a ‘Cable’? I guess we’ll find out this Friday after election day!


What are your favourite words for money? Why do you think we have so many different phrases for it? Know any others or got your own ideas for new ones? Leave a message and let me know.

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6 Responses to Money talks: Our favourite words for money

  1. Bill says:

    Dogs like it clean & fresh, hopefully face value, therefore it has oft been called the green & crinkly, & sometimes cabbage. The canines normally chew it up, turning it inter a course confetti. I have seen German tourists using Yugo 10,000 lira notes as spills ter light their fags from candles off the restaurant tables. Hence "spilletti\’s". The Yugo natives were not so happy ter see their currency devalued in such a fashion. This was pre-Balkan war.

  2. Michael says:

    As a young man in South London I heard many different slang terms for money including the following;Alan Wicker, Deep sea diver, Bottle, Cockle or Cock\’n\’hen, Long\’un, Sovs and probably a few I can\’t recall now.Some of these were a slang term for what was already slang,as in \’Alan Wicker\’.Some monetary terms were used for other slang references, as in \’Thrupenny Bits\’.These were the days when almost everyone had a nickname and the few that did not were almost left feeling insulted.

  3. piper says:

    Oh yes! I think I\’ve heard the term \’Alan Wicker\’ before and \’sovs\’. Cabbage is a strange one, isn\’t it?

  4. Bill says:

    Piper, darling, . . . cabbage comes in so many differring colours, oft green, & oft crinkly. It also has a fairly strong perfume, & is extremely good fers health, cooked or even raw. So full of life, energy & vitality. An extremely hardy annual, it grows almost any place, with adequate heat, light, & rainfall. As slang fers cash, it most likekly emanates from the "Black Country", or B\’ham, as it has been so many years since I heard it in use, way before TV, & also before I became a globetrotter. Possibly used by market traders, tinkers, knife grinders, & various other itinerant Tradespeople, etc., fers at least 500 years.

  5. Bill says:

    p.s.It could be early Naval!

  6. Bill says:

    Ca. 50 years ago yer could hog the public \’phone fers 4 hrs, all fers a quid. Or yer could buy 96 fust class postage stamps fers a quid. Meantime the price of a \’phone call has inflated ter 15 mins fers a quid, 1,600% inflation over 50 years, 32%/annum, & the price of a fust class postage stamp @ only 2.5/quid today, = 4,000% inflation, ca. 80%/annum. Milk is only 18%/annum.The gold price inflated by 140%, literally overnight, in 1972, due ter decimation of the British currency..Where can we buy an ounce (28gms) of solid 28 carat gold fers £0.06.25p today, please?.Where can we still yet buy a Full English, with as much tea as we can drink, also as much toast as we can manage, fers a florin (£0.10p), please?Only 40 years ago a Full English was costing me £0.02.5p extra, (\’alf a crown) as I only drank coffee, in preference ter tea. Every extra coffee cost me an extra £0.02.5p !!!Today I pay £1 – £2 fers a Full English at various charities, & scrambled egg on toast is as much as £8 on the M-Way services, where a tea bag in a paper cup is easilly £1.50p.In the late 60\’s, we had a 3 course Chinky, an English Business lunch, every Friday, fers only 5 bob (a full crown), 4 of which made a Sovereign.

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