What is a Monkey in Money?

In certain finance circles in the UK, you may hear people refer to £500 as a “monkey.” This unusual nickname Monkey in Money has its origins in old £500 banknotes, and continues to be used as slang terminology in banking and trading environments to this day.

The Origins of the Monkey Nickname

The curious “monkey” slang term dates back to the 19th century, when Bank of England banknotes featured illustrations of animals. The £500 note depicted a monkey, leading people to refer to that large sum of money as a “monkey.”

£500 banknote with monkey

The £500 banknote featuring a monkey that inspired the financial slang term like pony in money.

Here’s some background on the £500 note that was the namesake of the monkey nickname:

  • Color and Dimensions: The £500 note was predominantly brown in color, and measured 22.5 x 14 cm.
  • Security Features: Like all BoE notes, it had intricate engravings and watermarks to prevent counterfeiting.
  • Who Was Pictured: The face side of the note featured the Duke of Wellington, while the back depicted Britannia.

This very high-value banknote was used primarily for interbank transfers and large payments, not day-to-day transactions with average consumers. The production of £500 notes was discontinued in 1945.

But even as the notes themselves faded from circulation, people continued to use the “monkey” term to refer to a sum of £500.

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Is the Monkey Term Still Used Today?

The monkey nickname became an enduring piece of Cockney rhyming slang and financial sector lingo. People in banking and trading environments still make joking references to £500 as a “monkey.” However, the term is obscure to the general public.

The term persists within finance circles for several reasons:

  • Trading Tradition: It continues a long tradition of slang and coded language used in noisy trading environments.
  • Signifying Wealth: It allows traders to covertly discuss substantial sums of money.
  • Cockney Rhyming Slang: It fits with old London rhyming slang used in banking.

However, as cash transactions become less common and the old £500 notes fade into memory, using “monkey” to mean £500 may gradually fall out of fashion. Still, it remains an amusing piece of British financial history and culture.

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The Cultural Significance of the Monkey on Money

Beyond just being financial slang, the monkey on £500 notes has made its way into broader British culture:

References in Music, Film, and Books

The idea of a “monkey” representing a large sum of money has been referenced in various creative works, including:

  • Songs like “Monkey Man” by the Rolling Stones with the lyrics: “I need a monkey on my back”
  • Films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels mentioning a “monkey” to mean £500
  • Books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Wrong Box referencing a desire to get one’s “monkey back”

Representing Wealth and Success

More broadly, the image of a monkey has signified concepts like:

  • Financial intelligence and cunning
  • Quickly climbing the ladder of wealth and status
  • Financial power allowing lavish lifestyles full of mischief

So in popular culture, the “monkey on your back” became shorthand for having access to large funds and the trouble it can cause.

Monkey Business

Movie poster for 1952 film “Monkey Business” starring Marilyn Monroe

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Will Future Generations Know the Monkey Meaning?

As culture and technology moves forward, younger generations may grow less familiar with this financial lingo from the past. Cash is used less, digital payments more. £500 notes no longer circulate. And over time, the cultural references to monkeys representing money may fade from memory.

However, the term still has relevance when discussing:

  • British linguistic history
  • Evolution of rhyming slang
  • Changes in banking culture and technology
  • Origins of cultural references linking primates and wealth

So while less common in everyday use, the legacy of calling £500 a “monkey” will live on for cultural scholars, historians, and curious etymology enthusiasts. It offers a window into Britain’s rich social history tied to currency and language.

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