I have heard many explanations for the origin of the word quid,a slang word for the British pound coin, formerly pound note. These range from the ludicrous – English fishermen used to trade in squids – to the curious: American frontiersmen traded in units of chewing tobacco known as quids. There is the dubious story about Gaelic-speaking soldiers in the British army demanding mo chuid, ‘my money’, and then the slightly more believable, but still unlikely, link to the Latin term quid pro quo, a commonly used expression meaning ‘a more or less equal exchange’.
But I have a better explanation for you. Another story I have heard concerns the Royal Paper Mill, once located at Quidhampton in Wiltshire, which used to provide the special paper for all of the banknotes commissioned by the Royal Mint, leading to the nickname for the pound note. But since the only reference I can find to Quidhampton Mill in Wiltshire is connected to that particular story, with details remaining conspicuously absent from local government records, it probably didn’t exist.
Instead the records led me to a Quidhampton Water Mill, which operated for 700 years between the thirteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, and was used for fulling locally produced worsted cloth. But in the process of finding all this out, I accidentally discovered the Overton Paper Mill, formerly called the Quidhampton Paper Mill, which lay between the villages of Overton and Quidhampton to the west of Basingstoke in Hampshire, another county altogether. It appears that this was this mill that produced the special banknote paper used by the Royal Mint, along with other banknote printers around the world, and did so for several centuries.
In attempting to dispel a myth, it seems I have accidentally confirmed it. With apologies to the good folk of Quidhampton in Wiltshire – it looks as if it wasn’t your mill after all.
In America the equivalent smallest note of currency, the dollar, has its own nickname: a buck.The term comes from poker playing. Back in the days of the Wild West, the most common knife available was known as a buckhorn knife, so called because the handle was carved from the horn of a buck deer. As all cowboys and ranchers carried them around, one of these knives would always be placed in front of whoever was due to deal the next hand in a game of poker. Later, at the great casinos and gaming houses in Las Vegas, a silver dollar was used in place of a knife, and that is how the slang term for the currency arose.
In poker games where the stakes were running too high for a player, he could opt out of his turn at dealing by passing the buckhorn knife (or buck) to the next player. Even if he chose to play, he still avoided the responsibility of setting the bets next time around by passing the buck along. This expression was known by 1865 and the first recorded use was by Mark Twain in 1872. In 1945, President Truman famously had a plaque made for his desk in the Oval Office, which read The Buck Stops Here, a clear declaration that he was prepared to accept responsibility for all the decisions taken during his term of office. Later presidents Carter, Ford and Nixon all copied the idea, and the expression has since been widely used.