Money may be recognised as a universal language, but new research has found seven in 10 Brits (70%) aren’t sure what the different slang terms for it actually mean. The research from money-sharing app Pingit revealed a further 59% become confused over the denomination each slang term refers to, perhaps thanks to the more than 80 different words used to describe currency.
The most recognisable slang words regularly spoken across the nation are ‘notes’ (51%), ‘dosh’ (48%), and ‘coin’ (47%), whilst weird and wonderful phrases like ‘spondulixs’ (reasonable amount of money) (16%), ‘Lady Godiva’ (fiver) (11%), and ‘Arthur Ashe’ (cash) (9%) were the terms the public recognised, but were least likely to use.
Of the words that leave us feeling confused, ‘rhino’ tops the list with nearly half (49%) stating they are in the dark by its meaning. This is followed by ‘Pavarotti’ (49%), and ‘marigold’ (48%).
How our ‘change’ is changing
Nearly half (47%) of Brits think the language of money is evolving, with 28% agreeing that as new words for money are created, historical or traditional words fall by the wayside. Where once varying food vocabulary was used as slang for money, it’s no picnic trying to understand these now as over two-thirds (68%) of us haven’t heard of the terms ‘cheddar’, ‘bacon’ (60%) and ‘biscuits’ (74%).
Three in ten (30%) people also believe the evolution of money and payments over the past 10 years has impacted the words they use every day, for example, when they speak about ‘tapping’ for payment or ‘pinging over’ money. The changing of the linguistic guard also looks set to continue as 41% believe we will have different words for money and payments in 20 years’ time as technology continues to evolve.
There’s a time and a place
As technology brings new words in, older words are falling out of favour with younger age groups, with ‘tuppence’ used by 54% of people aged over 55 compared to just 16% of 18-24-year olds. Three in ten (31%) people within the younger generation deem phrases such as ‘writing a cheque’ or ‘swipe your card’ as old-fashioned, compared to just two in ten (19%) amongst all age groups.
Brits also use different slang terms by region. Whilst ‘notes’, ‘coin’ and ‘dosh’ are used across the nation, local favourites unique to each area include ‘bob’ (42%) in Yorkshire, ‘tuppence’ (41%) in the South West, ‘wedge’ (39%) in London, ‘bucks’ (35%) in Scotland and ‘copper’ (35%) in East Anglia.
A tricky topic
Despite the many words for money, the research showed that 66% of us don’t like talking about it and a further 45% find the process awkward. However, more than half of Brits (54%) say using slang words for money makes them feel more confident when discussing dosh.
To help Brits clue up on the language of lolly, Pingit has teamed up with lexicographer Susie Dent, known for hosting Dictionary Corner on Channel 4’s Countdown, to aid the public in deciphering their ‘monkeys’ from their ‘moolah’.
Susie Dent said: “New technology has certainly accelerated the speed at which slang moves on – and slang was already the fastest-moving area of language. Slang has different functions: many of the words we use are playful and a lot are tribal; we speak the same way as the groups we are part of. A great deal are also euphemistic, so it’s no surprise that a third of us are perplexed by their meanings and origins. Almost half the adult population finds discussing the subject of money difficult. Slang words help us to navigate these conversations by making us feel more comfortable and confident.”
The most confusing slang words for money:
Rhino (chosen by 49% of Brits) - No one knows for sure where this 400-year-old term for money comes from. Some people link it to the value of rhino horn or the idea of paying through the nose (rhinoceros is from the Greek for ‘nose-horn’). Perhaps the arrival of the first rhino in Britain suggested the sense of something valuable.
Pavarotti (49%) - Slang for a ten-pound note or tenner, this is a pun on the name of the famous ‘tenor’ Luciano Pavarotti.
Marigold (48%) - Until the 19th century, coins rather than notes were the norm, and their colour spawned a number of terms. Gold for example gave us the terms ‘gingerbread’, ‘yellow boys’ ‘canaries’, and ‘goldfinch’. ‘Marigold’ once denoted any golden coin, but it is now more specifically used for the sum of one million pounds.
Commodore (48%) - The result of a complicated and clever bit of rhyming wordplay for £15. Cockney rhyming slang for a fiver is a ‘Lady Godiva’, and the group the Commodores are best-known for their song ‘Three Times A Lady’.
Biscuits (47%) - An extension of the popular slang link between money and food, ‘biscuits’ joins bread, dough, cake, sugar, potatoes, and many other foodstuffs in the money lexicon, which are seen as either the staples or the sweeteners of life.
Cabbage (47%) - The colour of money, originating from the United States, has also created a host of slang terms. The term ‘greenback’ quickly emerged after the creation of the dollar bill by Abraham Lincoln, and a number of green vegetables followed in its wake, such as ‘kale’, ‘lettuce’, and ‘cabbage’. ‘Cabbage’ had in fact already been used by London tailors in the 17th century for pieces of material pinched from a job and sold for a profit.
Beehive (47%) - Rhyming slang for five; hence a five-pound note.
Sir Isaac (46%) – Sir Isaac Newton was the face of the old one-pound note before it went out of circulation.
Archer (46%) – A reference to the libel case involving the novelist Jeffrey Archer. The term is slang for the sum of £2,000, a reference to the amount that Archer allegedly offered as a bribe which was the basis of the case.
Darwin (45%) – A ten-pound note, which features the face of Charles Darwin.
Darren Foulds, managing director of Pingit, said: “From the moment it was introduced, money created social relationships – from bartering with one another in ancient times to transferring funds amongst friends and businesses in modern day. It’s no surprise, then, that we’ve developed a rich vocabulary to make our conversations more light-hearted and fun. Whether we discuss the ‘dosh’, nag about the ‘notes’ or ask a pal to ‘ping it over’, one thing is clear: as long as money and payments evolve, the language we use around it will continue to develop in weird and wonderful ways.”
Most popular slang terms for money: