If you’ve ever watched a Guy Ritchie movie (here’s a taste for those of you unfamiliar), you’ve likely heard the word “quid” at least 100 times. The word sounds like British gibberish, but it in fact has an ordinary meaning, one that ties to one of the most important word when it comes to English currency: “pound.” The pound, or pound sterling, is the basic unit of British currency.
Where Americans have the dollar, the Euro Zone countries the Euro, and China the Yen, Brits have the pound. If you’re looking to travel to Britain, be it for school, business, or pleasure, there are some things you should know about British currency, including what it is currently valued at. This How Much Guide to the pound will answer a range of questions you might have about the pound, including which countries use it and how it fares against other currencies (for instance, how much is a quid in US dollars?)
Who Uses the Pound/Quid?
Note: Given that “quid” is just slang for “pound,” this article will use both terms interchangeably.
When people speak of the pound, usually they are referring to Great Britain, which (for now) includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. These four countries all use the pound; the Republic of Ireland, which surrounds Northern Ireland, is part of the shared currency agreement called the Euro Zone.
Other countries that use the pound include:
- Gibraltar (Gibraltar pound)
- Isle of Man (Manx pound)
- Jersey (the island off the north coast of France, not the American state) (Jersey pound)
- Saint Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha (Saint Helena pound)
- Falkland Islands (Falkland pound)
These countries are part of the English commonwealth, and some are classified as “Crown dependencies” or “British Overseas Territories.” This relationship explains why all of them have some version of the pound as their currency.
What Denominations Does British Currency Come In?
Every country has its way of breaking down its money. Americans have pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and various denominations of dollar bill. Great Britain has similarly sub-divided its currency into coin and banknote (paper) categories.
- Two pence
- Five pence
- Ten pince
- Twenty pence
- Fifty pence
- One pound
- Two pounds
- Five pounds
- Ten pounds
- Twenty pounds
- Fifty pounds
When one speaks of a quid, she is referring to a single pound, so “five quid” means five pounds, “ten quid” ten pounds, and so on. “Quid” does not apply to any amount of pence, unless you are collecting together several pence coins to make one pound, or “quid.” (“Pence” is synonymous with “cents” in American currency.)
Why is the Pound Called a Pound, and Where Does “Quid” Come From?
It is a fact of etymology that it is impossible to fully account for how words get morphed into everyday, permanent usage. (Etymology is the study of the origins of words.) Language is a slippery force, and even when an origin story is plausible, likely, or certain, it is not always possible to trace the paths certain words take to ubiquity. This Buzzfeed article, for example, offers explanations for many common British sayings, but anecdotal evidence undoubtedly plays a part in the origin stories of many of those phrases.
The short version of the above paragraph is this: don’t assume a single story about a word or phrase’s origin is 100 percent correct. Word associations are as infinite as words themselves, and the truth behind the story of a word or phrase will usually have an ineffable dimension.
The pound’s name supposedly derives from old Saxon currency; 240 of these Saxon coins were minted from a pound of silver. Over time, this factoid became a shorthand phrase: pound sterling. (For more details on this story, check out the Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on the pound.)
“Quid” sounds entirely unrelated to “pound sterling,” and indeed its etymological family tree is somewhat branched off from the widely accepted story about the origin of “pound.” In fact, as one Guardian article attests, quid’s etymology is a multi-branched tree. Perhaps the most common explanation for quid’s status as slang for a pound is the notion of a quid pro quo (Latin for “a thing for a thing”), which refers to the notion of a reciprocal exchange between individuals. For example, if a butcher was to give someone a cut of fine tenderloin, it would be in the spirit of quid pro quo for the recipient of that tenderloin to give something to the butcher in return. Usually this will be money, but a quid pro quo does not require the exchange of money specifically in order to be fair.
The quid pro quo explanation sounds perfectly reasonable, but in the aforementioned Guardian article other potential narratives are expressed:
The sample size the Guardian utilizes in accounting for the different origins of “quid” is small, but it does point to a likely fact about these origin stories: there are as many of them as there are people to tell them. Slang words can take on a deeply personal role for communities or individuals that feel they have helped shape that word in some way. A consequence of this is that individuals and groups will have differing stories to tell. Whatever these stories are, one undeniable fact remains: everyone knows “quid” to mean money, whether that meaning derives from Latin phrases or misunderstood accents.
How Valuable is the Quid?
As of 9 August 2016, against the US dollar the pound still fares decently well. One pound is worth one dollar and 30 cents in US currency.
A handy tip: if you want to see how the pound stacks up to other currencies, you can go to either a Google or Bing search bar and input: 1 GBP in X,” with X signifying another currency code. (Currency codes are short abbreviations for currencies; United States dollars is USD, EUR is Euro, etc.) You’ll be given an easily accessible graphic outlining the currency’s present value against another currency, as well as graphs documenting the trends of the currency’s value over time.
The quid’s value against the US dollar is such that if you come into the UK with US currency and exchange it for UK currency, you’ll find that you lose money in the process. Conversely, those leave the UK and exchange their pounds and pences for US currency will be able to sit comfortably with a little extra cash in their pockets.
However, it wasn’t that long ago — 2014, to be exact — that a lone quid cost 30 cents more than it does at the present; Americans doing their best to avoid spendthrifting in the UK at that time no doubt felt deflated when they found that a quid was worth one dollar and 60 cents US. The pound still holds strong against the dollar, but what could possibly explain the drop in the quid’s value?
The factors influencing the global currency market are too myriad to mention here. But in the case of the quid’s decrease in value, there is one gun still smoking nearby. I here refer to the recent “Brexit” (“British Exit”) vote, a referendum in which the English public decided to leave the European Union (EU). The British people had many reasons for leaving the EU, including bureaucratic regulations on trade from the EU and especially the free flow of migration to the country as a result of the EU’s open border policy for EU residents. The vote was hotly contested, resulting in a 52-48 vote in favor of leaving the European Union.
One of the most commonly predicted effects of Britain’s exit from the European Union was the depreciation of the pound. When the Brexit vote came through in favor of leaving the EU, the effect on the pound was near immediate, and shocking even to those who foresaw the harm the pound would receive in the event of a pro-Brexit election result. Right after the election, the pound took a precipitous skydive (though not so precipitously it was ever less valuable than the US dollar), hitting lows it had not hit since 1985.
The future of the Brexit is still uncertain, and the same goes for the pound. For now, one can assume that a quid will be more valuable than a US dollar, but there’s no necessary reason to believe that fact will hold true. Global politics is an often tumultuous enterprise, and as to the matter of global finance and currency trading, one can do nothing but invoke the words of Matthew McConaughey’s sleazy banker in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street: “It’s a fugazi… it’s fairy dust.” Many people thought a Brexit was impossible. If the recent referendum has taught us anything, it’s that assumptions are often no more than that.
The good news is at least for now, the pound is the lowest it’s been in nearly thirty years. That means if you’re a US citizen that has ever had a burning desire to take a trip to the United Kingdom, now is the best time to get the bang for your buck. You may not be able to buy rare pearls or go absolutely wild in an extravagant London restaurant, but your money will go further. Given that in the past the pound’s high value has resulted in making US currency look like Monopoly money, the post-Brexit situation — uncertain though it is — is an undeniable boon to Americans going to England. When you think about how much a quid is in US dollars at the present, it’s hard not to feel like the quid is calling to you: “Come, while it’s still (relatively) cheap.”