A radio feature for BBC R4 in 1997
Are we really going to have a new currency called the Euro?
I know we're not scheduled to be among the pathfinders, but it'll probably happen eventually.
Euro. What a vile word. Still I suppose we've had pee in our currency since 1971, so something that sounds like urine shouldn't go down too badly - It'll go down badly at the King's Head Islington though I can tell you.
There, the till still operates in pounds, shillings and pence, and it was only the arrival of a new generation of bar staff that'd never heard of a shilling, mostly from Australia, that caused Dan Crawford, the owner, to abandoned asking for things like two and tuppence for a box of matches.
Will we say Euros, or shorten it to U’s or E’s ? Is our new currency going to sound like a recreational drug? And it’s not very threatening is it, either, “Euro”? It just kind of lacks that edge. I mean, “Oi, son, you owe me ten thousand Euros !”. Hmmmm. And what about slang? What’ll take the place of quid, nicker, monkeys and ponies? Cockney rhyming slang'll have a terrible problem. What the hell rhymes with Euro? Bureau, Neuro, Truro? "Right, that'll be four desks, two nutters and a town in Cornwall please. Oh, and a dime. “ Cos that's the other thing, cents. CENTS?
I mean I've got quite fond of Pee really. "50p". It's very British now, a pet name. I wasn't so fond when it all started in 1971, I always said New Pence, in capitals, because a penny was a d and no-one ever called them d's before, I mean it wasn't "2 pounds, five shillings and six d" was it?
You’ll have problems outside London too - In Bristol you put an ‘l’ on the end of everything, so it'll be a ‘Ural’, a mountain range in Russia, or ‘Earole’ - ‘That’ll be a pair of earoles please my lover’. Talking of Russia, over there the plural would be ‘Yuri’, so they’d be ‘Gagarins’ or ‘Andropovs’. (russian) “Yes please, that will be five billion Andropovs!” In Wales it sounds a bit like ‘Hero’. If Wales beat England at rugby this season they'd be a "bunch of boody Euros". It would be like saying, "The pack fought like bloody pound notes, man". Wouldn’t work. Not just Wales. A whole generation of children in Britain will grow up thinking David Bowie was singing, “We could be Euros, just for one day”.
Or it could be an oarsman's way of saying he's knackered, "You row". Alright, I’m running out. Suggestions on a postcard please! The thing with cents is that they aren't unique in the way that pennies are -well almost are. A cent is from someone else's currency, notably America's, and the cultural influence that precedes it - the association of cents with nickels, dimes and quarters, will make finding our own slang for them much more difficult.
It won't be as important mind you because a Euro's only worth about sixty-five bloody Pee to start off with. Also, we haven't been very imaginative with slang for our decimal currency, the days of tanners, florins, dollars, half-crowns, etc. are gone and we’ve ended up in total linguistic confusion, saying, "That's one pounds and one pence please."
The rest of Europe will suffer just as badly. In Germany it's ein ‘Oi-row’. (heavy german accent) "zwei tausend drei Euro bitte", - the Germans might understand it but no-one else will. “Deux milles trois Euros.” “Due mille tre Euro.”. Almost all Eropean currencies have strong consonants. Mark, Franc, Lire, Peseta, Pound, Krone, Zloty, Gulden. - "Euro". This word starts with a vowel and turns into a dipthong. "Eurrrr". It's the sort of sound you make if you've put shaving cream on your toothbrush. "Eurrrr!". It doesn't inspire. It’s insipid, weak, precious, eurrr-ish.
One of the reasons why the idea is resisted, despite it seeming to make economic sense, is the gut reaction of most of the people in the countries involved, who perceive this new currency as something that’s being imposed on them by someone else - a big brother somewhere. If, at the time of decimalisation, our currency had been renamed Dollars, I would have felt Americanized, if Marks, we lost the war, if Francs, Wellington blew it at Waterloo, if Pesetas, ditto Drake. We’ve got historical baggage coming out of our ears and to many people the very idea of ‘Surrendering the Pound’ is the equivalent of using beaches for sunbathing rather than fighting on.
It’s always seemed to me an unnescessary battle to fight. Why lose the names at all? A Scottish five pound note is accepted in England and vice versa. What about a Euro-Mark, a Euro-Pound and a Euro-Franc? Why not five Euro-Krone being accepted in Spain as five Euro-Pesetas and in Italy as five Euro-Lire? Notes the same colour, same size, same unit, different designs?
Well, the European Council have decided, quote, “that the name given to the European currency shall be Euro. This name is meant as a full name, not as a prefix to be attached to the national currency names.”
Well, there we are then. It’ll probably be good for business - it’ll definitely be bad for slang.