Lemons, Loonies, and Lakhs: Money Slang From Around the World

Do you have a clunky silver echidna? Or maybe some spare watermelons? Most people are familiar with slang names for coins like “bob” or “loonie,” but some of the currency slang from around the world is extremely colorful and imaginative.


In Australia, a “clunky silver echidna” refers to a five cent coin (which can also be “dusty shrapnel”), while a ten cent coin can be “Howie’s sticky dollar,” in reference to a politician known for introducing a goods and services tax. The two-dollar coin can be a “nugget,” a “twigger,” or–since it is approximately the same size as the five cent coin but thicker–a “fat echidna.”



In Canada, the one-dollar coin is commonly called a “loonie,” for its well-known design of a loon on the reverse. The two-dollar coin, naturally, became the “toonie,” though some prefer to spell it as “twonie.”
1_rupee_bill_historical.jpgIndia has a denomination called the Lakh, which is equal to 100,000 rupees. The lakh is sometimes called the “peti,” which means “suitcase,” referring to the suitcase needed to carry a Lakh’s worth of notes. Wealthy businessmen may refer to two- and three-crore amounts as “2C” or “3C.”
s-l1600.jpgThe most common Russian slang words for money translate as “cabbage” and “dough.” 500 rubles are sometimes referred to as “pyatihatka,” which literally means “five huts,” perhaps a reference to the buying power of the currency. 1000 rubles can be “kosar” (mower) or “shtuka” (thing.) During the hyperinflation of the ruble during the Russian Civil War and 1980’s, some of the larger denominations acquired nicknames: 1 million rubles is “limon” (lemon) and a billion rubles were “arbuz” (watermelon.)


Pre-decimalisation coins in the United Kingdom have many names. A “bob” was a shilling, while a farthing could be a “mag,” and a sixpence a “tanner.” The collective term “shrapnel” could refer to all loose change in a pocket, while a “wad” would be a large amount of paper money.



money-1428584_960_720.jpgRap and hip-hop music have given rise to new slang terms for money, as well. “Bands” refers to large amounts of paper currency, from the rubber bands often used to keep bills in bundles. “Guac,” short for “guacamole,” is also used, presumably due to the green color of both the condiment and American bills. “Cream” is based on the acronym “cash rules everything around me,” most notably used by the Wu-Tang Clan.


eight_varieties_of_pearsOne type of slang deserves special mention: the complex and lyrical phenomenon of “rhyming slang.” The best known example of this form is Cockney rhyming slang. In this system, the object is paired with a two-part phrase, the last part of which rhymes with the object. Sometimes the rhyme is left at this stage, but in many instances, the second part of the pairing is dropped, leaving an unrelated word to signify the object. For example, “stairs” could be paired with “apples and pears.” Then, “pears” would be dropped, leaving “apples.” (This is the system that lead to the phrase “blowing a raspberry;” the full rhyming phrase would be “raspberry tart.”) This manner of speaking can be extremely confusing to anyone not familiar with the system and its customs. In some instances, the original slang word is rhymed again, leading to even more distance from the original subject. This unique speech art began in the East End of London in the 1840s.


In Australia, this can be seen in the slang terms for the twenty cent coin, which is referred to as a “splatty” or “fatty,” rhyming with the “platy” (platypus) on the coin. The 10 cent coin, which features a design of a bird, is sometimes called a “turd” for the same reason.


Whatever you call your currency, one thing is for certain: we’ll never run out of weird slang to use in describing money!


Keep the Ball Rolling

You’ve probably used the idiom before; you want to “keep the ball rolling”. The phrase, if you aren’t familiar, means to keep up a situation or activity, to keep it going.

The source of this phrase is early. It starts with an eccentric man named Jeremy Bentham, who wrote to George Wilson in 1781 to try and keep a conversation going. He wrote, “I put a word in now and then to keep the ball up.” (“Keep the ball up” was an older, British version.)

But the guy who really established the phrase was none other than Benjamin Harrison in his 1888 presidential campaign. His supporters created a giant ball covered with campaign slogans and rolled it from campaign to campaign across the country, chanting “keep the ball rolling”. They rolled the ball about 5,000 miles, across many states, to Indiana, Harrison’s home state.

Don’t you hear from every quarter, quarter, quarter / Good news and true, / That swift the ball is rolling on / For Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.

Harrison’s campaign was the first with a political slogan (“For Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”). Harrison’s campaign against Grover Cleveland was a close one, but Harrison won in the end.

More Bang for Your Buck

The phrase means “more value for your money,” and it has a more political origin than you might expect.

It all starts in the 1950’s with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense, Charles Erwin Wilson. He used the word “bang” quite literally as a reference to nuclear weapons because the new New Look security policy called for greater reliance on nuclear weapons.  In this context, Wilson used the phrase as “more bombs for your money”. The U.S. Military wanted to use more weaponry power and the phrase “bigger bang for your buck” could hardly be a better summation.


Charles E. Wilson and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Arthur W. Radford observing a controlled explosion.

Thanks to the phrase’s catchy alliteration, it stuck around. But it did lose its political connotation as time passed on, moving instead toward the meaning that we know and love today.

The first transcribed account of “bang for the buck” appeared in New Language of Politics in 1968, where the author William Safire recounts Wilson’s invention of the phrase.

The earlier equivalent of “more bang for your buck” was Pepsi’s 1950 slogan “more bounce to the ounce”.





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Why We “Face the Music”

If you refuse to accept any unpleasant consequences of your actions, you may be told to “face the music,” whether you like it or not.

The origin of this idiom is a little blurry. How do you come to “face” something you can’t see?

One theory suggests that the phrase has a military history. When disgraced soldiers were kicked out of their regiment, drummers would allegedly play them out through their final march. Other references say that these soldiers had to sit on their horses backwards, forcing them to face and hear the drums, therefore “facing the music”.

This is not the only theory however, and it’s far from being historically proven.

Another story claims an origin with music in church. The organ often sat in the balcony in the back of a church; this was before electric blowers made the billows louder. So to better hear the music, the congregation turned around to face the music to hear it better.

Perhaps the Victor-Victrola record player, as described by this vintage advertisement, will help you literally face the music.

Perhaps the Victor-Victrola record player, as described by this vintage advertisement, will help you literally face the music.

Yet another tale suggests the phrase comes from theater, where a new, nervous performer would have to face the judging eyes of the audience and the orchestra pit despite any apprehensions.

Let’s turn to more solid evidence. The first printed appearances come from New Hampshire. The New-Hampshire Statesman and State Journal August 2 1834 edition contains this line: “Will the editor of the Courier explain this black affair. We want no equivocation – ‘face the music’ this time.”

The National Era has an excerpt of dialogue with an abolitionist senator, Mr. Hale: “Mr. FOOTE – As the Senator from New Hampshire is an aspirant himself, what does he think a candidate ought to do? Mr. HALE – (with promptitude and humor) Why, stand up and face the music.”

1850 brought an explosion of “face the music” usage (perhaps accounting for a great number of people with guilty consciences) and it was brought into regular use.

So what we do know is that “face the music” came into common use mid-1800s. As for the true origin of the phrase, well, that may never be fully proved.

Where Does the Phrase “Close But No Cigar” Come From?

Have you ever said something and then done a complete double take and wondered where on Earth that phrase came from?

The English language is full of idioms that we use every day without a second thought. But it’s worth it to see where some of these phrases come from so that you understand why these crazy things are slipping out of your mouth.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Close, but no cigar.” It refers to any not-quite-successful attempt.

It’s well-known, even to people who have no interest in cigars. So where did it come from?

One of the most likely theories behind this phrase recalls a carnival game.file0001270304641

Most carnival games today offer prizes like stuffed animals or other cheap toys. But back in the day in the early 20th century, carnival workers gave cigars as prizes.

That looks odd today – but just remember how much people smoked back then.

Workers would yell “close, but no cigar!” if someone came close to winning. This would likely rile the player up for another go, making them spend more money to play again.

Rumors suggest that Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States from 1913 to 1921, commonly used the phrase, which he might have found in the penny novels printed at the time.

One of the first known prints of the phrase occurred in the script for the 1935 film Annie Oakley. It said, “Close, Colonel, but no cigar!”

The phrase appeared often in print from 1949 on, often in newspapers. A 1949 story in The Lima News, when The Lima House Cigar and Sporting Goods Store was just barely prevented from burning down, was titled “Close But No Cigar.”


The Phrase Finder

Phrase Origins