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Words like 'monkey', 'pony', 'ton' and so on are used by East End villains and Cockneys to denote numbers - ton is one hundred for example. Examples abound in popular culture (The Krays, Only Fools and Horses, Guy Ritchie movies). Where do these terms come from? And how could the words possibly connect to the amounts?

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I think the last two questions are ungrammatical. But, as non native, I'm unsure on how they should be correct. –  user19148 Jul 15 '12 at 21:07
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@Carlo_R.: There's nothing wrong with the last question. In the second to last, OP had simply failed to type the word "come", which I've just added. Your last sentence should read "But, as a non native, I'm unsure <del>on</del> how they should be corrected" –  FumbleFingers Jul 15 '12 at 21:15
    
@FumbleFingers: thank you.- –  user19148 Jul 15 '12 at 21:22
    
See also english.stackexchange.com/questions/23090/… –  mgb Jul 16 '12 at 1:03
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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

monkey = five hundred pounds (£500). Probably London slang from the early 1800s. Origin unknown. Like the 'pony' meaning £25, it is suggested by some that the association derives from Indian rupee banknotes featuring the animal.

The origin of ton supposedly comes from the fact that a ton is a measurement of 100 cubic feet of capacity (for storage, loading, etc).

That link above gives a good summary of what's known about British slang money words and expressions. I will just say that I'm "semi-Cockney" myself. Like most Brits, I know the value of a pony and a monkey, but I've seldom if ever heard them used except "facetiously". Ton, on the other hand, is relatively common (though not so common as the US import grand).

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A tun is around 256gallons (depending on wine or beer) which is 33-34cu ft –  mgb Jul 16 '12 at 0:16
    
@mgb: Yes, although I see OED says it was 252 "old wine-gallons", and also that Now, for the purposes of registered tonnage, the space of 100 cubic feet. I didn't mean to imply the word "ton" itself derived from 100 cu/ft - effectively, it's the other way around. I just meant that's why it became slang for 100 (pounds, miles per hour, etc). –  FumbleFingers Jul 16 '12 at 0:29
    
@fumblefinegrs - yes gross tonnage for ships is 100cu ft, and it was fixed in the mid C9 which is just right for slang en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_register_tonnage –  mgb Jul 16 '12 at 0:49
    
I rather like the US usage of large for a thousand too. –  5arx Jul 31 '12 at 18:54
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