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Let’s start with some vocabulary. In the UK, a pound is called a ‘quid’. ‘Have you got a quid?’ means ‘Have you got a pound?’ Note that we don’t pluralise this noun when talking about an amount of money, i.e. we say ’50 quid’ and not ’50 quids’. However we do use ‘quids’ in the expression ‘quids in’, which means ‘to make a profit’, e.g. ‘When we sold the house we were quids in.’ But ‘quid’ is only pluralised in this expression, not when used as a noun in general.

If we have five pounds, we have five quid. However we also have a ‘fiver’. This refers to the five pound banknote. We can go further with this, and indeed some Londoners do – particularly those from the East End of London (Cockneys), who refer to a fiver as a ‘lady’, after the historical British figure Lady Godiva, whose name rhymes with ‘fiver’.

Similarly, a tenner means ten pounds (or ten quid) and generally refers to the note, rather than ten pounds in coins. Some people will call it an ‘Ayrton’, after the late Brazilian Formula 1 racing driver Ayrton Senna (as Senna rhymes with ‘tenner’).

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Speaking of coins, when we are searching amongst our ‘small change’ – i.e. penny coins and 2p coins – we are looking through our ‘coppers’. This does not have any connection to a ‘copper’ as a policeman (‘cop’ for short). It refers instead to the colour of the coins rather than the material they are made from, as most British coins these days are actually made from copper-plated steel.

Let’s look at a few money idioms. If you (or your company) is ‘in the black’, don’t worry: this is a good thing. It means you are not in debt (for now, at least). Keep things this way! If, alternatively, you are already in the red, you need to act: you owe money and are not making profit. Sometimes you need to ‘break the bank’ to make advances and revive your company’s fortunes. ‘Breaking the bank’ means to spend more money on something than you normally would, e.g. ‘he broke the bank when he bought the new PC for the office’).

When we have no money, we say we are ‘broke’, ‘skint’ or ‘strapped for cash’. These words mean the same thing: we are poor! We might then look at a rich person with envious eyes and remark on how they are ‘loaded’ or ‘filthy rich’. This means they have a lot of money (e.g. ‘Bill Gates gives a lot of money away to charity – he’s loaded’).

To progress from this penurious state to one of affluence would require one to go ‘from rags to riches’. This expression is used to describe a person’s meteoric rise, from humble origins, into the ranks of the wealthy.

We might be especially envious of a person who is born into a wealthy family. When somebody is rich due to their family connections, we say they were ‘born with a silver spoon in (their) mouth’. They can afford to spend what they like on luxury items: we, meanwhile, have to ‘live within our means’, i.e. not spend more than we have. We should avoid the temptation to ‘use credit’ to fund our purchases (to use a credit card to buy things). We certainly should not gamble the money we have away: when a man loses all his money through betting or dubious business deals, we say ‘he lost his shirt’ – sometimes literally.

Take our blog test to see how you manage with a few of the idioms we’ve looked at in this blog.

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Joe Crowley