Angela Kireeva — A Сoncept of Money Slang

Nr. 18    Juli 2011 TRANS: Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften

Section | Sektion: Semantik, Diskurs und interkulturelle Kommunikation aus interdisziplinärer Perspektive

A Сoncept of Money Slang
The Notion of Slang

Angela Kireeva (Pyatigorsk State Lingustic University, Russia) [BIO]


 Konferenzdokumentation |  Conference publication



Slang is the continual and ever-changing use and definition of words in informal conversation, often using references as a means of comparison or showing likeness. Some modern slang has endured over the decades since its inception (i.e. cool) and some will only last a few years before being rendered obsolete or outdated (i.e. bling bling). Slang can be born from any number of situations or ideas (the word slang itself has come to “represent selling, especially of illegal drugs” (Urban Dictionary)), and can be blunt or riddled with metaphor, and often quite profound.

The use of slang is frequently ridiculed by culturally-ignorant people who feel it is the product of insufficient education and believe it to be counter-evolutionary; of course, they couldn’t be farther from the truth. Human language has been in a state of constant reinvention for centuries, and slang has been used and created by poets and writers of all sorts (William Shakespeare has been credited for the upbringing of at least a couple of words). It is the right and responsibility of the modern human to keep re-evaluating language, to give dead words innovative contemporary meanings or to simply invent new ones, in order to be more appealing and representative to the speaker or listener (which was essentially the basis behind language anyway, to understandably communicate thoughts or ideas verbally). Slang expressions are created in basically the same way as standard speech.

Expressions may take form as metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech. The words used as slang may be new coinages, existing words may acquire new meanings, narrow meanings of words may become generalized, words may be abbreviated, etc. However, in order for the expression to survive, it must be widely adopted by the group who uses it. Slang is a way in which languages change and are renewed.


Slang style-shifting and sociability

In the UK `well-brought-up‘ speakers move easily in and out of slang in conversation and the previous reluctance by the print and broadcast media to admit slang terms has given way to a tendency to embrace and in some cases to celebrate this extremely informal level of lexis. Interest in collecting and analysing slang is keen especially among adolescent learners, but in Britain, as opposed to the US and certain European countries, teachers and academics have hitherto paid it little or no attention. Although there may be valid reasons for this – it is obvious that the study of non-standard varieties of language is of little use in teaching communication skills or preparing for examinations – we should remind ourselves that any disapproval of slang can only be a social and not a linguistic judgement.

Indeed, there are grounds for seeing slang, diffuse and ill-defined as it is as a category, as a particularly interesting aspect of language, both formally in that it mobilises all the morphological and metaphorical possibilities of English – rather as poetry does, but without the dimension of allusiveness and ambiguity – and functionally in that it often occurs in association with heightened self-consciousness and charged social interactions. Lexical innovation is also, of course, a function of cultural change, notoriously raising problems of decoding by `non-natives‘ (and some natives, too), but worthy of attention for that very reason, especially for working or trainee teachers and translators.

An obvious reason for choosing to concentrate on slang is that it is itself a controversial and spectacular social phenomenon, an `exotic‘ aspect of an otherwise predictable language environment. An even better reason is that it is a variety which belongs (to a varying degree – of course some young people are quite innocent of non-standard usages) to young people themselves.

The recorded slangs of the past have been quite rightly characterised by Halliday in terms of `antilanguages‘, the secretive codes of transgressive or deviant subcultures – criminals, beggars, travelling entertainers – with their salient features of relexicalisation and overlexicalisation (Halliday, 1978). Later sociolinguists have focused on the role of adolescent slangs in the construction of social identity, among for example street gangs or high school students (Labov 1982, Eckert 1989), showing how acceptance into and exclusion from peer-groups is mediated by slang nomenclature and terminology.

Of course slang itself has gone global; there are now local hybrids, often incorporating English lexis alongside the pervasive effects of dominant inner-circle varieties such as the high school argot propagated by Hollywood movies and TV soaps, and the black street codes of rap and hip-hop. Authenticity – not just a concept among analysts but an emblematic term for members of subcultures – is complicated by the development in the media and in literature of pseudo-slangs (a phenomenon that goes back at least as far as Raymond Chandler and P.G. Wodehouse). So-called virtual or electronic literacies developing for the Internet, email or text messaging have generated new slangs and an enormous proliferation of websites designed to celebrate or decode them.


Slang money words, meanings and origins

The history of British money is vast and begun in the 8th century with the silver penny which was cut into farthings and halfpennies. While the origins of these slang terms are many and various, certainly a lot of English money slang is rooted in various London communities, which for different reasons liked to use language only known in their own circles, notably wholesale markets, street traders, crime and the underworld, the docks, taxi-cab driving, and the immigrant communities. London has for centuries been extremely cosmopolitan, both as a travel hub and a place for foreign people to live and work and start their own businesses. This contributed to the development of some ‚lingua franca‘ expressions, i.e., mixtures of Italian, Greek, Arabic, Yiddish (Jewish European/Hebrew dialect), Spanish and English which developed to enable understanding between people of different nationalities, rather like a pidgin or hybrid English.

Back slang also contributes several slang money words. Back slang reverses the phonetic (sound of the) word, not the spelling, which can produce some strange interpretations, and was popular among market traders, butchers and greengrocers.
Here are the most common and interesting British slang money words and expressions, with meanings, and origins where known. Many are now obsolete; typically words which relate to pre-decimalisation coins, although some have re-emerged and continue to do so.

Some non-slang words are included where their origins are particularly interesting, as are some interesting slang money expressions which originated in other parts of the world, and which are now entering the English language.

Current Money General Money Slang Money Bread, dough, spondoolicks, moolah, wedge, lolly One pound Nicker, quid, squid, smacker Ten pounds Tenner Five pounds Fiver, bluey (because they are blue in colour) 25 pounds Pony 50 pounds Half a ton, bullseye 100 pounds a Ton, century, C-note 500 pounds Monkey 1000 pounds Grand, „K“ (computer terminology, like 10k) 5 shillings Oxford 15 pounds Wicker Basket 30 pounds Bertie 20 pounds Purple 1 billion pounds point


Pre-decimalisation Money General Money Slang Farthing Mag Silver threepence Joy (nickel/brass versions were called threepenny bit) Sixpence Tanner Shilling Bob Two Shillings 2 bob bit

As for cockney slang some words are rhyming and some not:

  • one pound – saucepan (lid – quid);
  • Huckleberry (Hound – pound);
  • Alan (Whicker – nicker);
  • Five pounds – Lady Godiva (fiver);
  • Ten pounds – Ayrton Senna (tenner);
  • 20 pounds – Score (apple core).

There are some examples of using slang and idioms about money:

dough, moolah– money (non-countable.) I won a lot of dough at the casino. Look at all of this moolah!

greenback, buck– American dollar (countable.) Look at how many greenbacks you have in your wallet! Could you loan me a buck for the subway?

megabucks a lot of money. I would love to be like Bill Gates. He has megabucks.
(work for) peanuts– almost no money, very little money. John should quit his job because he is working for peanuts and he can’t afford his rent.

max out (a credit card) spend up to the limit of a credit card. Susie bought so many clothes she maxed out her credit card.

stretch money– be careful to make money one has last longer. Tony and Teri had to really stretch their money in order to pay all of their bills. They ate a lot of cheap food last month.

flip a coin– make a decision by tossing a coin in the air and calling heads or tails. (heads = side of coin with picture of a person’s face, tails = opposite side of coin.) Let’s decide who will start the game by flipping a coin.

Money like time, is something that we never seem to have enough of. Here are some phrasal verbs we use to talk about spending money.

– cough up (to pay for something or to send money on something especially when you don’t want to).

“She’s just coughed up £40 for a speeding fine.”

splash out (to spend a lot of money on something that you like but don’t really need. You spend more than you need to on something enjoyable).

“For our anniversary we splashed out £500 going to Paris for the weekend.”

– shell out (to pay or give money for something, usually when you don’t want to. Has the same meaning as cough up).

“I’m going to have to shell out £50 getting my TV fixed.”

– ante up (this is a formal phrasal verb which has the same meaning as cough up and shell out (informal). It means to unwillingly pay for something).

“The company has decided to ante up a large donation to charity.”

– fritter away (to foolishly waste money. It can also be used to mean waste time).

“I often fritter away my salary on things I don’t need. I’m terrible with money.”

So, money, and its amazing aspects of culture, design, society, history, language, finance, science, manufacture, technology, diversity, etc., (money connects to virtually anything) provide endless opportunities for teaching and training activities practically in all spheres of our life.



  • Crystal, D. Language Play. London: Penguin Books,1998.
  • Eble, C. Slang and Sociability. London and Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
  • Halliday, M.A.K. (1978), Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning, London: Edward Arnold.
  • Labov, T. (1982), `Social structure and peer terminology in a black adolescent gang‘, in Language and Society 2, 391–411


 Inhalt | Table of Contents Nr. 18

For quotation purposes:
Angela Kireeva: A Сoncept of Money Slang –
In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 18/2011.

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