Money Slang in the 1850s (Snippets 55)



Last year in Snippets 42 we looked at some slang terms from 1850, a very popular post that sparked off a lot of interest and some readers found quite amusing! So we are long overdue another look at slang from the past, and this time we will turn our attention to another publication from the end of the same decade, The Slang Dictionary, by John Camden Hotten, first published in 1859. Hotten was a successful publisher and an expert in rare books. He contributed articles about literary news to various publications, and wrote or co-authored several non-fiction books. His Slang Dictionary was popular enough to be reprinted several times over the course of a few decades. Let’s take a look at what he has to say about slang terms for money. Interestingly, a few of them are still in use today, although some applied to coinage that is no longer in use. Most of them are unfamiliar, but perhaps readers would like to submit comments about any that they are aware of still being used?

“Money,” it has been well remarked, “the bare, simple word itself, has a sonorous, significant ring in its sound,” and might have sufficed, one would have imagined, for all ordinary purposes. But a vulgar or “fast” society has thought differently, and so we have the Slang synonymes — BEANS, BLUNT, (i.e., specie, — not stiff or rags, bank-notes,) BEADS, BRASS, BUSTLE, COPPERS, (copper money, or mixed pence,) CHINK, CHINKERS, CHIPS, CORKS, DIBBS, DINARLY, DIMMOCK, DUST, FEATHERS, GENT, (silver, — from argent,) HADDOCK, (a purse of money,) HORSE NAILS, LOAVER, LOUR, (the oldest Cant term for money,) MOPUSSES, NEEDFUL, NOBBINGS, (money collected in a hat by street-performers,) OCHRE, (gold,) PEWTER, PALM OIL, POSH, QUEEN’S PICTURES, QUIDS, RAGS, (banknotes,) READY, or READY GILT, REDGE, (gold,) RHINO, ROWDY, SHINERS, (sovereigns,) SKIN, (a purse of money,) STIFF, (paper, or bill of acceptance,) STUFF, STUMPY, TIN, (silver,) WEDGE, (silver,) and YELLOW-BOYS, (sovereigns;) — just forty-three vulgar equivalents for the simple word money. So attentive is slang speech, to financial matters, that there are seven terms for bad, or “bogus” coin, (as our friends, the Americans, call it:) a CASE is a counterfeit five-shilling piece; HALF A CASE represents half that sum; GRAYS are halfpence made double for gambling purposes; QUEER-SOFT is counterfeit or lead coin; SCHOFEL refers to coated or spurious coin; SHEEN is bad money of any description; and SINKERS bears the same and not inappropriate meaning. FLYING THE KITE, or obtaining money on bills and promissory-notes, is closely connected with the allegorical expression of RAISING THE WIND, which is a well-known phrase for procuring money by immediate sale, pledging, or by a forced loan. In winter or in summer any elderly gentleman who may have prospered in life is pronounced WARM; whilst an equivalent is immediately at hand in the phrase “his pockets are well LINED.” Each separate piece of money has its own slang term, and often half a score of synonymes. To begin with that extremely humble coin, a farthing: first we have FADGE, then FIDDLER, then GIG, and lastly QUARTEREEN. A halfpenny is a BROWN or a MADZA SALTEE, (Cant,) or a MAG, or a POSH, or a RAP, — whence the popular phrase, “I don’t care a rap.” The useful and universal penny has for slang equivalents a COPPER, a SALTEE, (Cant,) and a WINN. Twopence is a DEUCE, and threepence is either a THRUMS or a THRUPS. Fourpence, or a groat, may in vulgar speech be termed a BIT, a FLAG, or a JOEY. Sixpence is well represented in street talk, and some of the slangisms are very comical — for instance, BANDY, BENDER, CRIPPLE, and DOWNER; then we have FYE-BUCK, HALF A HOG, KICK, (thus “two and a kick,” or 2s. 6d.,) LORD OF THE MANOR, PIG, POT, (the price of a pot of beer — thus a half-a-crown is a “five pot piece,”) SNID, SPRAT, SOW’S BABY, TANNER, TESTER, TIZZY, — sixteen vulgar words to one coin. Sevenpence being an uncommon amount has only one Slang synonyme, SETTER. The same remark applies to eightpence and ninepence, the former being only represented by OTTER, and the latter by the Cant phrase NOBBA-SALTEE. Tenpence is DACHA-SALTEE, and elevenpence DACHA-ONE, — both Cant expressions. One shilling boasts eleven Slang equivalents; thus we have BEONG, BOB, BREAKY-LEG, DEANER, GEN, (either from argent, silver, or the back Slang,) HOG, LEVY, PEG, STAG, TEVISS, and TWELVER. One shilling and sixpence is a KY-BOSH. Half-a-crown is ;known as an ALDERMAN, HALF A BULL, HALF A TUSHEROON, and a MADZA CAROON whilst a crown piece, or five shillings, may be called either a BULL, or a CAROON, or a CARTWHEEL, or a COACHWHEEL, or a THICK-UN, or a TUSHEROON. The next advance in Slang money is ten shillings, or half-a-sovereign, which may be either pronounced as HALF A BEAN, HALF A COUTER, a MADZA POONA, or HALF A QUID, a sovereign, or twenty shillings, is a BEAN, CANARY, COUTER, FOONT, GOLDFINCH, JAMES, POONA, PORTRAIT, QUID, a THICK-UN, or a YELLOW-BOY. Guineas are nearly obsolete, yet the terms NEDS, and HALF NEDS, are still in use. Bank-notes are FLIMSIES, LONG-TAILED ONES, or SOFT. A FINUF is a five-pound note. One hundred pounds, (or any other “round sum,”) quietly handed over as payment for services performed, is curiously termed “a cool hundred.” Thus ends, with several omissions, this long list of Slang terms for the coins of the realm, which for copiousness, I will engage to say, is not equalled by any other vulgar or unauthorised language in Europe.

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5 Responses to Money Slang in the 1850s (Snippets 55)

  1. steveo says:

    Perhaps this helps explain the term, “Skin in the game.” Skin being defined here as, a purse of money.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That would make sense. There is a theory that the phrase comes from Shylock and all the “pound of flesh” business, but I think it is more likely simply to be a result of “skin” as slang for a purse, which makes sense when you consider purses would traditionally have been made of leather. Thanks for your comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting how few of those have survived. Also noticed ochre but not lucre.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, ochre is obsolete, and if you think about its origins it wouldn’t make much sense nowadays anyway – how much money is yellow? Lucre was certainly a term that existed at the time – it comes from a Latin word for profit. Thanks for your comment 🙂


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