Decoding the Dough - Do You Know Your Lady Godiva From Your Lolly?

15 April 2019

More than half of Brits use slang words for money, but less than a third know what the words actually mean

  • 70 per cent of Brits get confused by slang words for money, admitting they don’t know what each term refers to
  • ‘Notes’ found to be the most popular term for money, while ‘Arthur Ashe’ is the word with the distinction of being recognised, but least likely to be used
  • Over half of Brits (56 per cent) believe that new forms of money and payments have given rise to new words to describe them, and two in ten (19 per cent) think expressions like ‘writing a cheque’ seem ‘old-fashioned’
  • Money-sharing app Pingit teams up with lexicographer and Countdown presenter Susie Dent to help shine a light on the diverse language of dosh

Money may be recognised as a universal language, but new research has found seven in 10 Brits (70 per cent) aren’t sure what the different slang terms for it actually mean. The research from money-sharing app Pingit revealed a further 59 per cent 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 per cent), ‘dosh’ (48 per cent), and ‘coin’ (47 per cent), whilst weird and wonderful phrases like ‘spondulixs’ (reasonable amount of money) (16 per cent), ‘Lady Godiva’ (fiver) (11 per cent), and ‘Arthur Ashe’ (cash) (9 per cent) 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 per cent) stating they are in the dark by its meaning. This is followed by ‘Pavarotti’ (49 per cent), and ‘marigold’ (48 per cent).

How our ‘change’ is changing

Nearly half (47 per cent) of Brits think the language of money is evolving, with 28 per cent 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 per cent) of us haven’t heard of the terms ‘cheddar’, ‘bacon’ (60 per cent) and ‘biscuits’ (74 per cent).

Three in ten (30 per cent) 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 per cent 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 per cent of people aged over 55 compared to just 16 per cent of 18-24-year olds. Three in ten (31 per cent) 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 per cent) 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 per cent) in Yorkshire, ‘tuppence’ (41 per cent) in the South West, ‘wedge’ (39 per cent) in London, ‘bucks’ (35 per cent) in Scotland and ‘copper’ (35 per cent) in East Anglia.

A tricky topic

Despite the many words for money, the research showed that 66 per cent of us don’t like talking about it and a further 45 per cent find the process awkward. However, more than half of Brits (54 per cent) 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:

1. Rhino (chosen by 49 per cent 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.

2. Pavarotti (49 per cent) - Slang for a ten-pound note or tenner, this is a pun on the name of the famous ‘tenor’ Luciano Pavarotti.

3. Marigold (48 per cent) - 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.

4. Commodore (48 per cent) - 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’.

5. Biscuits (47 per cent) - 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.

6. Cabbage (47 per cent) - 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.

7. Beehive (47 per cent) - Rhyming slang for five; hence a five-pound note.

8. Sir Isaac (46 per cent) – Sir Isaac Newton was the face of the old one-pound note before it went out of circulation.

9. Archer (46 per cent) – 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.

10. Darwin (45 per cent) – 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.”

The findings were released by Pingit, an app that facilitates easy peer-to-peer payments with just a mobile number. For more information visit www.pingit.com or download the app.

Notes to editor

Research polling 2,000 people in the UK, conducted 29th March to 1st April 2019.

Most popular slang terms for money:
1. Notes (51 per cent)
2. Dosh (48 per cent)
3. Coin (47 per cent)
4. Dough (38 per cent)
5. Bob (38 per cent)
6. Wad (28 per cent)
7. Bucks (28 per cent)
8. Lolly (22 per cent)
9. Score (18 per cent)
10. Smackers (17 per cent)

About Pingit
Pingit is a mobile payment service that lets you send and receive money using just your mobile phone number. If you are aged 16 or over all you need is the Pingit app, a UK bank account and a UK registered mobile phone number. It's powered by Barclays, but you don't need to be a Barclays account holder to use Pingit. It's quick, free and totally secure. Pingit.com