A friend of mine just asked if I had paid him back for some money he lent me. I told him the check was cancelled on the 9th. Concerned, he asked, "why'd you cancel the check?"

I replied, "I didn't stop payment on it. It was deposited and so the bank cancelled it."

This is obviously a source of confusion so I looked around online but didn't find anything satisfactory. What is the etymology of "cancelled check?"

  • investorglossary.com/cancelled-check.htm - I would vote to close.
    – user21032
    May 16, 2012 at 17:22
  • One more: ehow.com/m/facts_6923667_definition-canceled-checks.html
    – user21032
    May 16, 2012 at 17:25
  • 2
    Why would you close this question? What's illegitimate about it? There are a lot of words that could potentially describe a check that has been cleared, executed, completed, transferred, et cetera. Why use one of the few words we have to describe a check that has been "cancelled" or stop payment-ed (for lack of a better word). Obviously, I know what the definition of a "cancelled check" is as I mentioned it in the question body. The question is, "why is the word cancelled use to describe the check that is completed but not the check that is . . . well . . . cancelled?
    – D. Patrick
    May 16, 2012 at 17:28
  • 2
    Also Lewis, I'm capable of searching the internet. Had I found a suitable reliable source for this question, I'd certainly not have posted the question. Perhaps next time someone wonders the same thing, when they search for an answer, they'll find it on Stack Exchange.
    – D. Patrick
    May 16, 2012 at 17:35
  • 3
    I think this is a perfectly suitable question for this site. I am glad you found an answer and shared it with us.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    May 16, 2012 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


For fear that my question was going to be closed, I called a friend of mine who is a CPA. It turns out the term "cancelled" in accounting is not the same as the term "cancelled" to lay folks.

In accounting, cancelled means to eliminate a debit or credit by making an offsetting entry to the account. When I write a check, the bank incurs a liability. When the check clears at the depositor's bank or I call and I stop payment on my check, the credit on the liability is "cancelled" by a debit on the liability.

That's why a check that has been processed is a "cancelled" check. Incidentally, that's also why credit cards and debit cards are named counterintuitively (because the terminology is based on the banks perspective, not yours).

  • I am glad you found an answer and shared it with us.
    – user21032
    May 16, 2012 at 18:05
  • Interesting. I've never heard this with UK cheques, but perhaps they do behind the counter.
    – Hugo
    May 20, 2012 at 19:19
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    That's because UK cheques are quancelled, @Hugo.
    – Shog9
    Dec 30, 2012 at 22:41
  • Aye, cancel as in balanced. Origin of the title Chancellor I think.
    – user99990
    Dec 3, 2014 at 23:01
  • It's only the origin in a purely etymological sense. A chancellor worked behind lattices/bars, and to cancel originally meant to strike something out by making lattice-like lines across it; so it's the origin of the title inasmuch as they both refer to lattices, but not beyond that. Dec 4, 2014 at 2:33

It is cancelled in the sense that it may no longer be redeemed for its face value.

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