The proper names for English units of currency are the pound (plural, pounds), for which the symbol is £, and the penny (plural, pence or pennies), which is usually abbreviated to p. There are 100 pence to one pound. In common with most other nationalities, the English have adopted slang terms for these units and for many frequently encountered monetary sums. This writeup is intended to list some of those currently in use, and where possible to comment on their origin.

A ton is £100, and in fact the term ton is used in place of 100 in a number of other contexts too. For instance, 'doing a ton' means traveling at 100 miles per hour. This term is possibly derived from the fact that the registered capacity of a ship is measured in volume units, in which a ton equals 100 cubic feet.

Another term for a hundred pounds is one-er, but this is increasingly coming to mean £1,000 (due to inflation?). A more common term for £1,000 is a grand, which is an American term that was adopted. Its derivation is unclear. A newer expression is K, which is probably derived from the metric system of measurement, where kilo, usually abbreviated to K, signifies 1000 units.

A score is twenty pounds. This is a widely recognised term, although it is slowly declining in use. It is probably derived from the fact that notched sticks, called tallies, were at one time used to keep accounts, a practice which continued up to the nineteenth century. Each notch, or score, on the stick equalled twenty.

A pony is £25, and a monkey £500. Both of these terms are quite old. The use of pony is documented as far back as the 18th century, and monkey in the early 1800's. I have been unable to find any theories regarding the origin of either. Their use has always been less widespread than most of the other slang terms for money, and personally, I have only ever heard them used among London gamblers.

The terms tenner for £10 and fiver for £5 are probably the most widespread of all English monetary slang. Oncer, meaning £1, was also used at one time, but died out after £1 notes were replaced by coins. By far the commonest term for a pound now is a quid. Quid is also the plural, so fifty pounds is 'fifty quid', not 'fifty quids'. Another term for £1 which does not change in the plural is nicker. The origin of both of these terms is unclear, although quid in particular is the subject of much conjecture (and few facts, as far as I could ascertain). Two other terms, sheet and note, are both casualties of the £1 note being replaced by a coin, and they are rarely used now.

Smaller denomination coins formerly had a variety of slang names, but these have almost entirely died out, mainly due to the fact that the coins they referred to no longer exist, and indeed the monetary system of which they were a part, known as sterling, is redundant, having been replaced by a decimal system in 1971. The term bob, which was the common name for the sterling shilling, is still in very occasional use, although it does not actually refer to any existing coin, but rather to the shilling value of a decimal sum after conversion into sterling. As such it is almost always employed by those old enough to have been completely familiar and comfortable with the sterling system, and who still consider such a conversion to be meaningful or helpful in some way.

Along with the use of K to represent £1000, I am aware of two other recent additions to English money slang, although neither of them have gained particularly wide usage, and I suspect they will fall entirely into disuse before very long:

A Maggie was used in the 1980's to refer to the new £1 coins. This was a reference to the Prime Minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher, and was applied to the coin because, in common with her, it was brassy, two-faced, and pretended to be a sovereign (a sovereign being a sterling coin which the £1 coin slightly resembled, as well as a reference to Mrs. Thatcher's assumed regal demeanor).

An Archer was a term adopted by the satirical magazine Private Eye to mean £2,000. It took its name from Lord Jeffrey Archer, formerly a Conservative Member of Parliament, and represents the amount that he was shown to have send to a prostitute at Victoria train station in London, which, when made public, caused his political downfall.

The Oolong Man has kindly /msgd me to say that a 'jacks' is sometimes used as another name for the £5 note, although he is unsure how widespread its usage is. It's not a term that I'm personally familiar with. On a sidenote though, I have heard the expression 'on my jacks' used to mean 'on my own'; it's derived from the (almost) rhyming slang "Jack Jones, own".

Lady_Day has reminded me that a pound is sometimes known as a "squid". This is clearly derived from "quid". "Squid" has been in occasional but widespread use for at least 10 years, and appears in the many variants of a fairly well-known joke, all of which feature the punchline, "Here's the sick squid I owe you". Perhaps this is even how the useage of "squid" started?

 
I am aware that small snippets of this information appear elsewhere in E2, but it is only possible to find them if you already know exactly what to look for. This writeup is partly intended to redress that flaw. I have also attempted to add detail to existing information wherever possible.

    Sources:
  • There are a great many sources of this information on the internet, but most of the facts have been gathered on the 'Money Matters' page at http://www.wordwideworld.org/articles/money.htm.
  • The 'Archer' information is from Private Eye magazine. However, a fuller version of this particular sorry episode in Archer's life can be found online at http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/mayor/Story/0,2763,194829,00.html

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