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  5. "They are not wanting one pen…

"They are not wanting one penny."

Translation:Chan eil iad ag iarraidh aon sgillinn.

December 8, 2019



If a sgillinn is a penny, just what is a shilling in Gaelic?


Had to look that one up in one of my dictionaries. It's tastan.


So in the days when there were shillings and (old) pennies... It was 12 sgillinn to a tastan?


Yes. Originally sgillinn meant 'shilling' but due to hyperinflation Scots money gradually lost value compared to English. Eventually we had

12 shillings Scots = 1 shilling English

For several centuries the two currencies were used in parallel, so you had to make it clear which money you were talking about, as R.L. Stevenson shows rather humorously in Kidnapped (quoted below).

See Pound Scots on Wikipedia

By chance that meant that

1 sgillinn = 1 shilling Scots = 1 penny English

That then meant there were no Gaelic words for the English shilling or pound. They seem to have got the word tastan from an old French coin - sorry the link is in French. This word is thought to come from teste (modern spelling tête, with the ^ replacing the now-silent s) meaning 'head' as the King's head was shown on the coin.

The Gaelic word not for pound is not formally explained, but see here for some thoughts on the matter.

Although Gaelic and Irish are generally similar, what I have described only happened in Scotland. Irish money lost only about 8% of its value. Therefore Irish uses the words in a similar way to English:

  • pingin = 'penny'
  • scilling = 'shilling'
  • punt = 'pound'

“Davie,” he said, at length, “I’ve been thinking;” then he paused, and said it again. “There’s a wee bit siller that I half promised ye before ye were born,” he continued; “promised it to your father. O, naething legal, ye understand; just gentlemen daffing at their wine. Well, I keepit that bit money separate—it was a great expense, but a promise is a promise—and it has grown by now to be a matter of just precisely—just exactly”—and here he paused and stumbled—“of just exactly forty pounds!” This last he rapped out with a sidelong glance over his shoulder; and the next moment added, almost with a scream, “Scots!”

The pound Scots being the same thing as an English shilling, the difference made by this second thought was considerable; I could see, besides, that the whole story was a lie, invented with some end which it puzzled me to guess; and I made no attempt to conceal the tone of raillery in which I answered—

“O, think again, sir! Pounds sterling, I believe!”

“That’s what I said,” returned my uncle: “pounds sterling! And if you’ll step out-by to the door a minute, just to see what kind of a night it is, I’ll get it out to ye and call ye in again.”

I did his will, smiling to myself in my contempt that he should think I was so easily to be deceived.

(Edit, 10 months later)
I have just noticed a serious error in the quote. Stevenson says that £1 Scots = 1s English (a ratio of 20:1), but this is not the case, as the Wiki link and the the Gaelic money clearly show. It was 1s Scots = 1d English (a ratio of 12:1), which is £1 Scots = 1s 8d English. Either he was just bad at arithmetic – no wonder he failed as an engineer when born into the most famous engineering family ever in Scotland, or he wanted to keep things simple and hoped people would not notice the difference.


Thank You, that was very helpful! A very full answer, which I appreciate :-)


I don't remember the exact dialogue, however, when there was a wager before a duel placed by nobles whilest others fought. British pounds as opposed to Scottish pounds during the movie "Rob Roy."

Scottish nobles were just as loathsome as British nobles imho.

Thanks for allowing the mild rant.


Well I couldn't find a suitable source but I did find Rob Roy's actual testament (showing what he left in his estate), and it mentions Scots money, money which is presumably Scots but doesn't say, and merks. So there will have been genuine confusion at the time. You can see why authors chose to use it as a plot device.

I assume you mean English when you say British. The English money effectively became British money after the Scots money was abandoned. English nobles and Scottish nobles were both British nobles.

Having reread my quote from Stevenson, I have seen a serious error that he made. I have edited my post.

Scottish nobles have been blamed for the Highland Clearances, so a wee rant is permitted. However some say that it was their attempt to become more like English/European nobles, rather than traditional clan chiefs that was actually what caused the Clearances.

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