Hatlings, benders and beer tokens

In one of the songs we sang at the Welsh session last night, there’s an interesting word – hatling, which means ‘mite, half-farthing; modest contribution, all that a poor person can afford’.

It’s a word I haven’t come across before, but from the context I guessed it was term of affection. This is how it’s used:

Fy hatling offrymaf dros enaid dan glo,
Fy nghanwyll offrymaf yn eglwys y fro,
’R offeren weddïaf saith seithwaith yn daer
Er cadw ei enaid anfarwol.
Myn Mair, Myn Mair

Which means:

My penn’orth I’ll offer for a soul in prison,
My candle I’ll offer in the church in the vale,
The Mass I’ll pray earnestly, seven times seven,
To save his immortal soul.
O Mary, O Mary.

You can hear the whole song here:

So it seems it doesn’t mean what I thought. I can’t find any information about its origin, but my guess is that it’s a perhaps a nickname for a half-farthing. This is a coin that was first minted in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1828, and used in the UK from 1842. It was worth an eighth of a penny.

Some other nicknames and abbreviations for British coins include:

Bender = a sixpence, known as such because it could be bent, due to its silver content. A one time you could get very drunk for a sixpence, which is the origin of the phrase ‘to go on a bender’.

Bob = a shilling. Possibly related to bell ringing, as a bob can also be a tune played on church bells.

Tanner = a sixpence. Possibly from the Romani word tawno (small one).

Groat = four pence (fuppence). From the Dutch word groot (great).

Ha’penny = half penny

Tuppence = two pence

Thruppence or Thruppenny bit = three pence

Quid = £1

Beer token = £2 (a pint of beer cost about £2 when this coin was introduced in 1998).

Only the £1 and £2 coins are still used.

Do you know of any other interesting nicknames for coins or bank notes?

Sources: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru – A Dictionary of the Welsh Language, Ireland, Wales and Europe – Poems, History and Language, Royal Mint

5 thoughts on “Hatlings, benders and beer tokens

  1. Occasionally you can still hear old people in Denmark use the word daler (cognate of dollar and Thaler) to refer to a 2 kroner coin. This is because when the Scandinavian Monetary Union and with it the krone/øre system was introduced in 1875 the (rigs)daler was replaced by the krone at the rate of 1 to 2.

  2. There’s also florin, a two-shilling coin or two-bob bit, and half dollar used in Scotland for the old half crown coin (worth two shillings and sixpence or 2/6).

  3. Your suggestion that that term is derived from English half-farthing is a good one, but the problem is that GPC cites ten quotations of the word, and they date from 1551 to 1803, with the majority in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, i.e. long before the introduction of the coin in Britain. GPC itself suggests the word is from a Middle English “halfling” but that word is primarily adverbial in this period, lacks the Welsh sense, and is primarily northern and Scots. Plus, some linguistic gymnastics would be needed for it to produce the Welsh form (we need to avoid thinking of Tolkien, too).
    Middle English atling, hatling, etlinge (Modern English ettling) fits the form, but the meaning is way off (“intention, preparation, plan, count”). Can’t find any close English dialect terms either. Worthy of more investigation!

    On the nickname front, half-dollar for a half crown was used south of the Scottish border too, and the crown was occasionally called a dollar. For the best part of a century crowns have been struck only as commemorative coins; they survived decimalization – I have a special Charles & Diana wedding issue, value 25p. From 1990 the face value was increased to £5.
    I still occasionally hear pounds referred to as “sovs” i.e “sovereigns” – gold coins worth £1 which are still minted as bullion, but are not in general circulation (their value as gold is considerably higher than £1).

    There’s also the other question about slang terms for specific quantities of money, e.g. Cockney lady [Godiva=fiver] £5, score (£20), pony (£25), bullseye (£50), ton (£100) monkey (£500), grand (£1000), several of which (notably “grand”) exist in other dialects/regions.

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