Who Gives a Monkey!

A guide to British Cockney slang for money.

For many years, cockney slang has been rooted in the heart of East London culture as a sub-language in British history, used in everyday life… “I left it up the Apples and Pears” (which translates to “I left it upstairs!”) or even to describe how you are feeling… “I am Hank Marvin!” (or “I am starving!”). This type of rhyming slang is thought to have come about in the East end of London as a code between thieves, incomprehensible to eavesdropping authorities. It is also believed to have been a common secret code between traders and entertainers.

Others believe that it came about with the mixture of cultures coming into London via the East end as a sort of ‘underworld slang’. This is thought to have formed a common language between the Italians, Spanish, Greek, Arabic and Jewish creating a form of hybrid English.

Slang terms for money

However it originated, the type of language used to describe the way we exchange currency between each other is almost like talking about a completely different currency to that of the British pound sterling known to the rest of the country.

Below are some fascinating examples of this monetary rhyming slang and their origins:

Money – ‘Bees and Honey/Bread/Beer Tokens’

There are many phrases used to describe money but the most popular phrases listed above are ‘bread and honey’ which has a simple rhyming quality for the word ‘money’ but the word ‘bread’ is suspected to have originated from biblical times as earning your ‘crust’ alludes to having enough money to pay for your daily meals… I am sure you can guess where the phrase ‘beer tokens’ comes from!

Cockney cartoon

How to speak Cockney

£2,000 – ‘Archer’

Allegedly this is the amount a man called Jeffery Archer used to bribe a call girl with in the late 20th Century.

£1,000 – ‘Bag of Sand’

A rhyming cockney slang for the word ‘Grand’, which it is commonly referred to as.

£500 – ‘Monkey’

It is generally uncertain as to where this slang originated but it has been suggested that it dates back to the 19th century and is associated with the animal on the bank notes from Indian Rupees.

£100 – ‘Ton’

Typically used to describe the measurement of 100 cubic feet of capacity for storage or loading it is also used to describe one hundred pound. Never pluralised but it is sometimes used to describe £50 in the phrase ‘Half a Ton’.

£50 – ‘Half a Ton/Bull’s-eye’

Bull’s-eye often refers to the central point of a dartboard where the player scores 50 point when hitting the target in the very middle. See above for ‘Half a Ton’.

£25 – ‘Pony/Macaroni’

Macaroni is cockney rhyming slang for pony, which is the most common name to describe twenty-five pounds. There are many suggestions as to where this originated. Similar to the monkey, it could possibly relate to the animal used of the 25-rupee bank note. Some people also believe that this was the typical amount used to pay for a small horse in the 18th century.

£15 – ‘Commodore’

Possibly the most amusing origin of the bunch as the word to describe a five pound note can often be referred to as ‘Lady Godiva’ (fiver), 3 times a ‘fiver’ is 3 times a ‘Lady (Godiva)’ and ‘Three times a Lady’ was a hit record by the commodores!

£10 – ‘Tenner/Cock and Hen/Cockle/Bill and Benner/Big Ben’

There are so many words used to describe a trusty ten pound note but most commonly ‘Cock and Hen’ as this phrase has carried the association with the number 10 for hundreds of years, but became associated with money in the 20th century as people started to carry ten pound notes in their pockets or wallets more commonly. Other words listed above simply hold the rhyming slang along with associations to London, i.e. ‘Big Ben’ (Ten).

£5 – ‘Fiver/Lady Godiva’

A simple rhyming slang to fiver, Lady Godiva allegedly originates from the East end of London.

£2 – ‘Bottle’

Thought to have originated from the word ‘spruce’ (rhyming with the word deuce) which refers to a type of beer made from the shoots of spruce fir trees.

£1 – ‘Lost and Found/Nicker/Cow’

The most common of the three is the word ‘Nicker’ when used to describe a pound coin. It is unknown as to where this originates from but some theories include; the relation to the use of nickel in the minting of coins or the valuation that describes the fiver dollar note that was valued at a similar rate to the pound coin in the 19th century. ‘Cow’ is short for ‘Cow Licker’, which is just a rhyming slang for ‘Nicker’.

50p – ‘Cow’s Calf’

Rhyming ‘calf’ with the word ‘half’ it simply refers to ‘half a cow’, this translates to ‘half a pound’, which is fifty pence.

1p and 2p – ‘Coppers/Shrapnel’

Copper refers to the shiny brown colouring of the coins whereas shrapnel refers to an inconvenient and heavy pocket full of small change. Shrapnel originated from the word used to describe artillery shell fragments, which is brown, small and heavy when there is a handful.

bees and honey cartoon

So, next time you exchange your money in London, don’t forget to take your with ‘Bees and Honey’ when you head down to the local pub! If you have any old ‘Bees and Honey’ or foreign coins or notes you want to exchange then get on the ‘Dog and Bone’ and call us on 0161 635 0000 or contact us via our website.

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