Bills, Notes

At the post office today, I needed to pay 64p for stamps, but only had 63p in change. The following conversation ensued:

Me: I'm afraid I'll have to give you a big bill. A really big bill.
PostOfficeMan: That's ok, we like big bills.Now, hearing an Englishman call £20 a bill rather than a note made me
reali{s/z}e that I'd said the wrong word:
Me: I mean, a large note!
POM: I know what you mean. We call them notes, but they tend to call them bills in America--oh, and Canada, Canada.I took his eagerness to mention Canada as further evidence of the aforementioned fear of Canadians going bonkers when assumed to be American. (I should say that while I find these conversations amusing, I don't blame Canadians at all for resenting being assumed to be American. However, since Canadians don't seem to leave their country without maple leaf flags sewn onto all of their outerwear, it is hard to mistake them for Americans.)

But a few words on money. Americans (and Canadians!) have particular words for their coins: penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢), quarter (25¢), and in Canada loony for the $1 coin. The British mostly don't have names for the coins. Presumably this is because they had nice names for units of currency that almost all became obsolete with the introduction of decimali{z/s}ation in the early 1970s. So, don't go looking here for sixpence and guineas, they don't exist anymore. One might say that a nickname for the pound coin is quid, but that is really a nickname for the amount (on a par with American buck for dollar), rather than for the coin.

The copper coins (collectively known as coppers, which is also slang for policemen--by a different etymology) do have names, presumably because these units survived decimali{s/z}ation: penny (1p) and tuppence (2p) (although they were worth different amounts in the decimal system, so were, for a time, called new penny/pence). Pence is the plural of penny, so it's technically incorrect to say 1 pence, but more and more people do. The ha'penny (pronounced hay-p'nny), or half-penny, is no longer in circulation as a coin, but remains in circulation in some idioms and place names. My friends' mothers coached them: Keep your hand on your ha'penny--that is, don't let anyone in your knickers (US: panties).

On the other hand, the British have names for two notes/bills, the self-explanatory fiver and tenner. I tend to remember to use the British term too late and say things like "Have you got a five...R?" I'd call these the names of the notes/bills, rather than slang terms, as they are not at all stylistically marked in the way that saying a fin (=$5) or sawbuck ($10) would be in the US. There are no similar names for larger bills--i.e. no *twentier. While US bills/notes are sometimes called by the name of the person (usually president) pictured on them, all the UK Bank of England notes have the reigning monarch on the front, and the people on the back change from time to time, and thus aren't so firmly associated with a particular denomination.

Here's a site on British money slang that may be of interest, if you like that sort of thing.